MANILA (4rd Update, 1:28 p.m.) -- Seven foreigners held hostage by a dismissed police officer were freed around noon Monday.
Former Senior Inspector Rolando del Rosario Mendoza held hostage at least 23 Hong Kong nationals on board a tourist bus Monday morning at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila.
Hostage negotiators talk to foreign tourists taken hostage by former Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza after securing their release at Manila's Rizal Park Monday. (AP)
The foreigners were supposed to go to nearby Manila Ocean Park.
Mendoza was dismissed by the Office of the Ombudsman last April after a De La Salle University (DLSU) student complained that he was held up by the suspect.
He demanded to nullify the dismissal order issued by the Ombudsman, and requested his reinstatement to police service.
As of this posting, police authorities are negotiating with the suspect to free the hostages.
"Negotiation is still ongoing," said Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesman Agremero Cruz.
Cruz said the victims were seized by the suspect around 10:15 a.m. while they were aboard a Hong Thai Travel tourist bus with plate number TUU-799.
Mendoza was formerly detailed with the Manila police district's mobile unit.
Initial police reports disclosed that the suspect boarded the bus in Fort Bonifacio in Intramuros.
Upon reaching the Luneta section, the former law enforcer declared that he had taken all passengers, including the Filipino driver and a tourist guide, as hostages.
Palace monitors hostage-taking
Malacañang is closely monitoring the hostage-taking incident.
"We hope it can be resolved peacefully," said Presidential Communications and Strategic Planning Development Secretary Ricky Carandang said.
He added Malacañang is keeping in touch with the PNP to get minute updates about the incident.
In a separate interview, Presidential Communications head Sonny Coloma said the authorities are on top of the situation to ensure that the hostages are safe.
"Let law enforcement agencies do their work with the lives and safety of the people involved as their primary consideration," he said.
News blackout rejected
Malacanang refused to impose news blackout on the hostage-taking in Manila.
"Baka naman po hindi kailangan niyan (news blackout)," Coloma said.
He assured that the authorities are fully-capable of handling the matter since it is not the first hostage-taking incident they have encountered.
He recalled the hostage-taking in 2007 involving Armando Ducat Jr., who held 26 schoolchildren and four teachers for almost 10 hours inside a bus in Manila.
"Halos pareho din ang scenario. We were able to bring a satisfactory conclusion medyo natagalan lang. it was also done in the morning it was resolved in the evening. But we are hoping that we have faster resolution in this case," he said.
Coloma denied that the government and law enforcement agencies are not prepared in handling such kind of incident.
He said police officers have undergone training in how to deal with hostage-taking scenario.
President Benigno Aquino III was already informed about the incident.
"He (Aquino) is letting the law enforcement authorities and in this case the local government of the City of Manila to take full responsibility and adopt appropriate measures," Coloma said.
He appealed to the hostage taker to discuss his complaints in a proper venue and not involve innocent lives.
"Sinuman ang makiki-usap sa kanya palagay ko karapat-dapat lamang na to honor and respect the lives of the people involved. Kung meron siyang hinaing hindi na dapat mandamay ng ibang tao lalo na mga turista sapagkat kaibigan natin sila," Coloma said.
He also cautioned personalities and politicians who would want to meddle in the negotiation to "act prudence" and be wary with their actions and comments so as not to aggravate the situation. (JP/VR/Jill Beltran/Sunnex)