MANILA, Philippines - Breaking its silence over the Manila hostage crisis, the Office of the Ombudsman revealed on Tuesday that it offered to review the extortion case against the hostage-taker, former police officer Rolando Mendoza, within 10 days in a bid to end the crisis peacefully.
In a press conference, Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, speaking through her assistants, said the 10-day review was offered to the hostage-taker after he demanded that he be reinstated in the police force immediately in exchange for the release of the hostages.
"Sabi ni Ombudsman (kay Mendoza), ang iyong kaso’y hawak ng abugado. Wala pa sa akin. Subalit dahil sa iyong kahilingan personal, ipakukuha ko ang record at ako ang mag-aaral, ako ang mag-rereview, at sa loob ng 10 araw ay dedesisyunan ang iyong MR [Motion for Reconsideration],” Assistant Ombudsman Jose de Jesus told reporters.
(The Ombudsman told Mendoza: 'Your case is with the lawyer. It's not with me. But because of your personal request, I will ask for your record and I will personally study and review it and will issue a decision on your motion for reconsideration within 10 days.')
Mendoza was dismissed from the police force last year after he was accused of robbery-extortion. On Monday, he hijacked a Hong Thai Travel tour bus with 25 people on board and held the people hostage for almost 12 hours before he was killed by police.
Eight Hong Kong tourists were killed, 7 were injured while 9 others were released before the shootout in the evening.
De Jesus, deputy Ombudsman for Luzon Mark Jalandoni and deputy Ombudsman for Military and other Law Enforcement Offices (MOLEO) Emilio Gonzales said Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez personally talked to the hostage-taker to find a peaceful resolution to the hostage crisis.
They said the entire Ombudsman leadership, including Special Prosecutor Wendell Sulit and Legal Department Maribeth Padios, was monitoring the hostage situation upon learning that the dismissed police officer complained about the slow progress of his motion for reconsideration on the extortion case.
They said Manila Vice-Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso was at the Ombudsman's office from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. to relay Mendoza's demands.
The vice-mayor actually urged the Ombudsman to talk to the hostage-taker via cellphone and listen to his demands. The phone was first passed to deputy Ombudsman Emilio Gonzales, followed by the Ombudsman herself.
"Mendoza told them that he was in the tour bus and that he only wanted his case dismissed and that he be restored to his post immediately. Hapon iyon," de Jesus said.
He said the Ombudsman offered the 10-day review of Mendoza's case but lost touch with the hostage-taker at that point.
Moreno suggested that Gutierrez put her commitment in writing so he can show it to Mendoza.
The vice-mayor also asked the hostage-taker to release a hostage as a show of good faith, which Mendoza obliged.
“Ang kahilingan ay sinabi ni Ombudsman na dalhin ni bise alkalde Moreno ang kaniyang kalatas kay Capt. Mendoza. Si bise alkalde ay kinausap si Capt. Mendoza at sinabing para magkaroon ng magandang paguusap ay palayain ang isa sa mga hostages pagkatapos na may mga nauna nang pinalaya, at ginawa naman yun,” de Jesus said.
The Ombudsman released the facts and status of Mendoza’s case to dispel all notions that there was a miscarriage of justice in his case.
Complainant forced to eat shabu
De Jesus revealed that Mendoza's extortion case originated from the National Police Commission (Napolcom) but was taken over by the Ombudsman upon the request of the complainant's father.
De Jesus disclosed that Bobby Kalaw, father of complainant Christian Kalaw, approached Gonzales to take over the case. The complainant had earlier accused Mendoza and 4 other police officers of extorting P20,000 from him and forcing him to eat shabu.
De Jesus said the Kalaw family was apprehensive over the Napolcom’s handling of the extortion case since the summons was personally delivered by the wife of Mendoza.
In the original complaint, Kalaw narrated that he was sitting inside has car that was parked along Vito Cruz corner Taft Avenue when he was approached by Mendoza’s co-accused, PO Wilson Gavino and PO2 Roderick Lopena. The two police officers said they needed to search Kalaw's car since it was allegedly parked in a “No parking area.”
Kalaw said the policemen allegedly accused him of being a drug user, and then pocketed the P3,000 in cash in his car ash tray. They also brought him to an ATM to get his cash.
Kalaw said in his affidavit that when he was brought to the Ospital ng Maynila for a medical check-up, he was made to swallow shabu but was told that he would not be charged in exchange for P200,000. A friend brought Kalaw P20,000 instead, which the cops supposedly accepted.
After the incident, Kalaw filed a complaint.
De Jesus said the accused in the extortion were given opportunities to respond and file an appeal.
He said that after reviewing the case, the Ombudsman found them guilty of the charges and ordered them dismissed them from the police force.
The accused, however, filed a motion for reconsideration that was backed up by several pleadings from Mendoza.
"Sinundan pa ni Capt. Mendoza ng mga letter-pleadings na naging parte ng kaso sapagkat hinihiling niya dun sa mga liham na dismissin ang kaso. Kaya for the purposes of the office [of the Ombudsman], they are considered pleadings that will be also reviewed and studied by a graft investigation officer," he explained.
De Jesus said that when the motion for reconsideration was taken up, the case was reassigned to another officer of the Ombudsman to ensure a fresh set of eyes would go over it. He said the reviewing officer would study the case and give his recommendations to his director for another review before it is brought to the office of the deputy Ombudsman.
The review process, he said, cannot be done in a single day.
Decision to fire Mendoza 'not final'
Jalandoni said Mendoza’s complicity in the extortion case was not just out of command responsibility.
“We debunk such statement. He was positively identified as threatening Marasigan and 4 others. Immediately after, 5 officials were preventively suspended by the PNP-NCRPO. The charges are grave and the evidence of guilt is strong,” Jalandoni said.
Jalandoni added that the motion for reconsideration was actually filed out of time, but was only given consideration out of respect for Mendoza's being a bemedalled officer.
Gonzales, for his part, recalled: “ Nung pumunta sa amin si Tony Kalaw, father ni Christian Kalaw, nung sinabi niya na mayroon ng agam-agam dahil nagbibigay ng summons asawa ni Capt. Mendoza, minabuti ng opisina naming na sumulat kay (then NCRPO Chief. Gen. (Geary) Barias at ipadala ang sulat sa amin, at pinadala naman.”
All 3 officials maintained that while the decision to fire Mendoza was implemented, it wasn’t final. They explained that decisions are implementable even while under review if no higher court issues an injunction.
Jalandoni said: “Let’s put it in the context of yesterday. Kahilingan ay i-dismiss ang kaso niya, baliktarin at ibalik siya sa serbisyo, at lahat magaganap before end of office hours. We operate based on law and evidence. Mendoza was adamant."
De Jesus said: ”Kailangan babasahin mismo ni Ombudsman. Mahirap mangyari gusto ni Mendoza ora mismo bigay mo resolution na ako exonerate at nirereinstate.”
Jalandoni defended the dispatch within which they handled the crisis, saying they had to balance what was happening with the rights of the complainant as well.
Gonzales, on the other hand, revealed his office handles so many cases, and this case was already handled fast enough.