Gunman and 8 Hostages Dead in the Philippines

August 24th, 2010 by Staff

MANILA —A former police officer took a busload of tourists hostage in downtown Manila on Monday morning, opening a 12-hour standoff that was broadcast live on television, including its end as police commandos stormed the bus before a watching crowd.

Eight tourists, all from Hong Kong, were killed, along with the hostage-taker. He was identified as Rolando Mendoza, a 55-year-old officer who had been accused of robbery and extortion and was fired last year.

There were indications that Mr. Mendoza, who news reports said was armed with an M-16 assault rifle, was watching the live news broadcasts of the scene on a monitor inside the bus as it sat for hours, curtains drawn, at a major public plaza.

Throughout the day, the gunman wrote his demands for the return of his job and benefits on cardboard and pasted them on the windshield of the bus. One message read, “Big mistake to correct a big wrong decision.”

Late in the afternoon, he posted a message saying, “Media now,” apparently telling journalists to come to him. But by then the police prevented reporters from even getting near the bus.

At one point, the gunman’s brother complained to reporters near the scene that the police were threatening him; the cameras then showed him being detained by officers and shoved into a police car, his relatives wailing behind him. Shortly after, shots were heard from inside the bus.

Gunfire also broke out when the police tried to break the windshield and glass windows of the bus with sledgehammers. A bystander was hit in the leg by one of the bullets.

Mr. Mendoza gave an interview to Radio Mindanao Network, a Manila station, in which he admitted shooting two of the hostages and threatened to kill more.

“I shot two Chinese,” he told the station in Tagalog. “I will finish them all if they do not stop.”

The commandos struck after the bus driver jumped through a window and ran from the bus screaming, “Everybody is dead!”

The cameras captured the commandos, armed with rifles, surrounding the bus and opening an emergency exit, as emergency vehicles converged at the scene in heavy rain.

Police officers threw tear gas inside the bus, apparently forcing Mr. Mendoza to go near the bus’s main door, which they had torn down. Shots were heard and in a split second the body of a man — presumably Mr. Mendoza — was seen slumped by the door.

Several of the unharmed hostages, visibly shaken and some crying, were taken off the bus through the emergency exit.

President Benigno Aquino, in a news briefing around midnight, said Mr. Mendoza might have gained some advantage from the coverage. “To a certain extent, he may have had a bird’s eye view of the developments, which might not have helped,” the president said.

The case captivated — and angered — Filipinos, with many blaming the news coverage for the disastrous end.

The chief executive of Hong Kong, Donald Tsang, called the case a “major tragedy,” and criticized the Filipino authorities.

“The way it was handled, particularly the outcome, I find is disappointing,” Mr. Tsang said at a news conference in Hong Kong, Reuters reported.

But Mr. Aquino defended the actions of the authorities: “The idea was to let the ground commanders who are the experts in this field handle the operation with minimal interference from people who are less expert.”

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