THE only operative that saved the face of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Monday’s hostage-taking incident in Manila was the unnamed sniper.

Seeing movement after the police lobbed teargas canisters into the bus that Senior Insp. Rolando Mendoza commandeered, the sniper fired several rounds of ammos, his aim sure. Seconds later, Mendoza’s bleeding body hung limply from the slightly ajar bus door.

Updates on President Benigno Aquino III's presidency

After nearly 11 hours of tension, the PNP, and with it the whole country, could finally heave a sigh of relief. All that was left for the police to do was to collect the dead (Mendoza plus at least eight tourists, all Chinese nationals), bring the wounded to the hospital for treatment and face condemnation from an irate public.

For the first time while watching the coverage of a major event, I cursed the TV set. It wasn’t difficult to see how the police bungled every aspect of the negotiation process and rescue effort in that hostage-taking incident. One can only shout in frustration at the sight, which was also aired worldwide by international media giants like CNN and BBC.

The turning point in the standoff was in the mishandling by the police of the commotion that SPO2 Gregorio Mendoza, the brother of the hostage-taker, created.

The drama of Gregorio and his three young relatives resisting efforts by the police to place them under custody was a sorry scene and long-drawn. Televised live worldwide and probably monitored by Rolando through the bus’s TV monitor, that commotion was followed by bursts of gunfire inside the bus as the hostage-taker, apparently enraged, began shooting at the hostages.

To control my own outrage at what happened, I googled “hostage taking negotiation rules.” I was enlightened by an article “Guide to Crisis Negotiations” in lectlaw.com written in 1995 yet by Bruce A. Wind, a member of the Seattle police hostage negotiations team at that time.

But before sharing with you some insights culled from that article, here’s something from people.howstuffworks.com, an interesting point, I should say:

“A hostage situation is a law enforcement worst-case scenario because it places civilians directly in harm’s way. Armed intervention becomes very risky, since the hostages themselves can be harmed either by stray bullets or the hostage-takers. That makes the negotiation the most important aspect of any hostage crisis.”

Among the negotiator’s objectives and tactics are: prolong the situation (the longer a hostage situation lasts the more likely that it will end peacefully); keep things calm (from the initial assault through the first hours of negotiation, hostage-takers can be extremely volatile, thus the negotiator should reassure the hostage-taker that everything will eventually work out peacefully); and ensure the safety of the hostages.

Here’s where the commotion involving Gregorio and the police became incongruous. It may have been sparked by Gregorio’s recalcitrance and possible connivance with the hostage-taker, but the police could have handled the situation better with the aim of “keeping things calm” while the negotiation was ongoing.

President Noynoy Aquino criticized the media’s actuation in that incident, but in the end a more competent handling of the hostage-taking incident would not have resulted in such a sorry coverage setup. More on this and other insights tomorrow.

(khanwens@yahoo.com/ my blog: Cebuano.wordpress.com)