ON THE surface the hostage-taking of tourists yesterday by a dismissed police official would have its biggest impact on tourism, but government should know better.

The Department of Tourism was among the first government offices to react to the then ongoing drama of a bus full of tourists being held by an ex-policeman hostage-taker.

The hostages were foreigners who were in Manila for vacation. They have no political affiliation or interest in the Philippines; they were here as visitors who wanted to enjoy the country. For most of them, it was the last sightseeing tour before they were to catch their evening flight back to Hong Kong.

The incident will be a black mark on tourism efforts. As Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim said, "We should really resolve this quickly so that it will not have a wider effect."

The foreigners were supposed to go to nearby Manila Ocean Park when the hostage-taking was announced and the bus stopped in the middle of the road in front of Rizal Park in the Luneta area and the Quirino grandstand. Hong Thai Travel Services Ltd. general manager Susanna Lau told Hong Kong's Cable TV that the bus was carrying a Hong Kong tour guide, a local tour guide and 20 tourists, including three children. She said the group left Hong Kong on Aug. 20 for a visit to Manila and was scheduled to fly back to Hong Kong around 7 p.m. yesterday.

More than the tourism aspect, however, the hostage-taking incident speaks of imperfections in the justice system within the police organization. Why would a dismissed senior inspector resort to taking tourist bus passengers as hostages to make a point about a perceived injustice?

Police identified the hostage-taker as former Senior Insp. Rolando del Rosario Mendoza, who was dismissed on charges of grave misconduct for being linked to extortion and harassment. Mendoza's demand to negotiators was for him to be restored to active duty.

His brother said Mendoza was included in the charge sheet for extortion and harassment simply because he was the commanding officer of four men who were on the field and who committed the illegal acts. Mendoza should not have been immediately dismissed from service because he has a pending request for reconsideration, the brother said.

The former senior inspector didn't appear to be a deranged man in television footages of the hostage-taking. Any person who resorts to exposing others to harm in order to make a point must be out of his mind but Mendoza appeared he had control of the situation.

It must have been desperation that forced him to do such an act so authorities would listen to his plea. If the police justice system had a way for grievances such as Mendoza's to be addressed then, maybe, an incident like this could have been avoided.

Mendoza was a 1986 Ten Outstanding Policemen Award recipient and probably kept his record clean until he got involved in the grave misconduct case.

Tourism programs would be affected and the players could expect an immediate reduction in the number of tourist arrivals. But what should be more worrisome is on what this hostage-taking incident says of the justice system within the police organization.

(ninicab@sunstar.com.ph)