Grief, dismay over Manila hostage crisis

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010


FRESH from the euphoria of a highly successful Kadayawan sa Dabaw festival celebration that saw the city filled up with visitors, locals and foreigners alike, stakeholders of tourism joined Tuesday a nationwide lighting of candles to show dismay and grief over the outcome of the hostage crisis at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila Monday night, where eight people, including seven Hong Kong tourists were killed.

This came as radio reports said six more countries issued travel bans to the Philippines to their nationals.

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Around 200 gathered at People's Park around 4 p.m. as representatives of 10 tourism operators from the city, students of tourism-related courses, and others. Flowers were brought and candles were lit in a ceremony showing grief for the Chinese tourists who died from the hostage taking.

The gathering was also done simultaneously in cities of Cebu and Baguio as suggested by a tourism head here.

Davao Travel Agencies Association president Pia Montano said the gathering is the tourism sector's way to "show our unity as a nation in grieving for the Chinese tourists."

Davao City Council committee on tourism head Councilor Alryan Alejandre said Montano suggested the matter to the national head of said tourism association Tuesday morning which then received support from other local tourism sectors.

Montano was clearly dismayed with the outcome of the hostage taking, saying this could perhaps put our country's tourism "back to ground zero."

"This will have a major impact on our tourism. It's like going back to ground zero. It's high time we look closely at the police authority preparedness in negotiations and assault and rescue. Our alliance will meet to discuss steps on how to prevent incidents like this from happening," Montano said through phone interview.

Alejandre said as an initiative, the tourism sector have requested the Davao City Police Office through Senior Supt. Rene Aspera to meet with them at the City Council building next week in order to discuss safety protocol in time of emergencies.

"Clearly, as what we have seen on television, there was no proper coordination among the police at that time. It showed that they did not coordinate with the agency who owns the bus for them to know how to address the situation. It seems they did not know the emergency protocols in dealing with hostage situation inside a bus. They should have known that they cannot break the windows, that there were knobs outside so they can open the emergency door. Ang tagal ng response nila," Alejandre said.

"When we would have our meeting with the PNP we would discuss that with them para di mangyari yung inabot na situation sa Manila," Alejandre said through phone interview.

City Tourism Officer Bong Aportadera also expressed dismay to what happened.

"Objectively, limited to what I saw on TV, clearly kulang ang mga gamit ng pulis. Kung talagang SWAT team yun sila, then clearly wala silang tamang gamit for that siutation. The SWAT team supposedly has an explosive charger for the windows na once lang matatanggal na lahat, meron dapat silang flash bang na pang-disorient sa assailant to give them time to destroy the window if that's what they really wanted to do. Meron dapat yan silang camera, which they could slip into the bus so they would know what's happening. Meron tayo niyan sa Central 911," Aportadera said through phone.

"Sige lang silag tuyok tuyok (They kept on circling) around the bus, they did not know what to do. Perhaps their snipers did not have the scope for them to see through the curtains. Meron nga yan dapat heat signature para makita kung ilan na nga ba yung tao sa loob kung may buhay pa o hindi. How come Manila's finest did not have these equipments. Bakit maso lang ang meron sila, narinig pa nga yung reporter na 'O may mas malaki pa ako diyan!' The way they did it, it showed that they were also frustrated," he said.

Both Alejandre and Aportadera said they considered as the trigger to the grim outcome was the "unorderly custody of the police on the brother of the hostage taker."

But with this, the tourism heads also said the media played a role of heightening up the tension.

Alejandre, formerly a television personality, admitted the presence of the media in the area added "hype".

"As a media practitioner before, I know there is a protocol to cover everything however there are limitations. In a very critical situation, first and foremost that should be considered is there is order. Coming from the police there should have been coordination between the police and the media para mapag-usapan kung ano ang ipapakita at kung ano ang hindi. Posibleng naka-monitor sa TV or radio yung hostage taker eh. I'm sure for the safety of the hostages inside the bus the media would have followed. But there was arrangement like that which the PNP should have," Alejandre said.

"Pwede naman yun na nagfi-film yung media but hindi live kung meron nga lang napag-usapan but there was no clear person running the show. It's just sad. As the City Mayor said, it's a very unfortunate event but it is isolated. This has become something that jolted us to look into the alliance between tourism and security but it is unfortunate it went to these lengths," Aportadera said.

Aportadera said the event would have a great impact on the country but said he expects the tourism sector would work hard "to build the trust of other countries again."

"It's like the tsunami that happened in Phuket, Thailand. As to how great the effect this would bring the country, we do not know. Ang sa atin na lang muna siguro, let's start here first in Davao through a meeting with the PNP. On Friday I will be going with Jason Magnaye in Manila to join the city mayor because we are going to meet with groups interested in investing on a Convention Center for Davao City, and also to present the tourism master plan for Davao City which Jason made," Aportadera said.

Effect on tourism

Meanwhile, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte expressed her condolences to the families of the victims of the unfortunate incident.

"I believe it will greatly affect the tourism in the Philippines as gleaned from the Hong Kong travel ban. Other countries are also wary. I hope they will see this as a single isolated incident that rarely happens," Duterte told reporters after a turnover ceremony at the Task Force headquarters Tuesday.

She said he expects the Davao City Police Office to be always on alert even without events.

"Padayon sa daily life. Dili magpahuong ug magpahadlok sa atoa," she added.

Lt. Col. Medel Aguilar, chief of the Civil-Military Operations Battalion of the Army's 10th Infantry Division, hopes the hostage incident will not affect the city's tourism industry. "On our part, we will always do our best to protect the people from threat groups."

Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc. president Robert Quinto expressed he does not see the city should be affected much after the city has shown how peaceful it is during the Kadayawan Festival.

Quinto noted considering there were only petty crimes and not great threat to the city's security in the event as big as a festival the city was able to maintain order, thus it has "only shown to the world that the city is safe."

"As a nation, this incident created a very bad image. For Davao City after a very festive and peaceful Kadayawan celebration, I think this would put Davao as a better tourism destination in the Philippines. I don't think (the number of tourists that would come in would lower)," Quinto said through text.

Travel bans

First to place Philippines in its black list for their nationals was Hong Kong, as early as Monday night, right after the hostage taking incident, saying traveling to the Philippines poses a serious threat against its residents in the country.

Radio reports on Tuesday said following the Hong Kong travel ban, the governments of Indonesia, Thailand, Nepal, Iran, Pakistan and Russia also issued alert orders against travel to the Philippines.

Sun.Star tried calling the countries' embassies in Manila, but the calls were not answered as of this posting Tuesday.

Russian Consul Ezginey Sidchuk, in a telephone interview, said they haven't received any advice from Moscow, Russia yet regarding the travel advisory.

The Department of Foreign Affairs, meanwhile, said it has not yet received the alleged travel advisories from the six other countries, but it already has a copy of the travel warning from Hong Kong, China.

Condemnation

The United States and China condemned the hostage drama, saying it was tragic and disappointing.

"It's disappointing that Hong Kong residents tried to make a pleasure trip to Manila and ended up with death and casualties. This is very tragic. And the way it was handled and particularly the outcome, I found it disappointing," Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang said.

China has demanded an investigation on the incident, which started around 10:15 a.m. Monday in front of the Quirino Grandstand where Philippine President Benigno Aquino was sworn in last June 30.

"The Chinese government demands the Philippine government [to] launch a thorough investigation into the incident and inform the Chinese side of related details as soon as possible," Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said, according to a statement posted on the ministry's website late Monday.

Yang telephoned his Filipino counterpart, Alberto Romulo, to voice his concern about the incident.

Yang said the Chinese government "was appalled" by the murders.

United States Ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas Jr. said the American government condemned the hostage taking. He expressed his condolences to the victims and their families.

In a separate statement, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said China had already sent a team to Manila to deal with the aftermath of the hijacking.

"China has requested the Philippine side to take pragmatic measures to ensure life and property safety of Chinese nationals in the country," he said.

The Chinese government also said it has already arranged flights for the Hong Kong tourists who were killed and injured in the tragedy.

Seven other tourists were on the bus and two of them were wounded and in serious condition.

Investigation

In response, Philippine President Aquino vowed a thorough investigation into what transpired Monday.

He also said his government will provide funds for more training, as well as for acquiring new and better equipments for the country's security forces.

"We will cooperate with all the agents of the aggrieved party to repair as fast as possible the damaged relations between our countries," Aquino said.

The President also said the government has already apologized to the Hong Kong government for failing to secure the welfare of some of the hostages.

The Palace will also be meeting with the media to come up with guidelines on how to handle such situation.

"So we will be talking to you and will come up with terms and conditions that will help each of us achieve our objectives," the President said.

The Philippine government is optimistic that the hostage crisis would have little effect in the country's tourism industry and that foreign investors would understand that the incident is not reflective of the actual situation in the entire country.

The countries generally have good relations, although there have been strains because of competing territorial claims in the South China Sea that include its potentially rich oil and gas deposits and strategically important shipping lanes. (JCZ/Gigie Arcilla-Agtay/AP/Sunnex)

Grief dismay over manila hostage crisis

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