PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III yesterday said he will hold someone accountable for the botched handling of the hostage-taking at the Quirino Grandstand.

That, as Philippine Airlines (PAL) reported at least 558 Manila-bound bookings getting cancelled by tourists from Hong Kong, Beijing, Xiamen and other points in China.

Updates on President Benigno Aquino III's presidency

“PAL is beginning to feel the initial impact of a Hong Kong government advisory warning its residents to refrain from all travel to the Philippines,” PAL president Jaime J. Bautista said in a statement.

In other developments:

l The Cebu Provincial Police Office (CPPO) is considering hiring experts from the elite cops of the United States to train them in handling crisis situations like hostage-taking.

l Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama will form a crisis committee that will deal with hostage-taking situations, insurgency, disasters and other exigencies. It will be composed of the Cebu City Disaster Coordinating Council and the Police Coordinating and Advisory Council.

l At the Senate hearing, Manila Police Department Director Rodolfo Magtibay said Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim had directed the arrest of SPO2 Gregorio Mendoza, the brother of slain hostage-taker Rolando Mendoza. Gregorio’s manner of arrest, covered live by the media and viewed by Rolando on the tv set aboard the tourist bus, triggered the dismissed police officer to start firing at the passengers, killing eight of them.

Rolando was shot dead by the rescue team.

In Mandaluyong during the groundbreaking of two schools, President Aquino said he is in great despair over what happened and would like to see the probe by the Department of Justice and the National Bureau of Investigation wrapped up soon and that the persons accountable for the botched rescue operation are identified.

It should not happen again, he said. “May mga nagkulang, may mga magbabayad.” (Someone has to pay for the mistakes.)

The President was reported to have been unreachable during the 11-hour standoff.

Aquino also said that after what happened, a leading foreign banking corporation visited him in Malacanang to reaffirm their trust in his leadership.

Aquino said the bloody hostage-taking was a lesson learned on handling crisis situations and he will not allow himself to get hampered by it in leading the country.

At the tourism front, PAL reported cancellations of 558 bookings from several points in China and Hong Kong after they issued an advisory against travel to the Philippines following the violent hostage-taking.

PAL president Bautista said that despite the travel advisory, PAL will continue to mount five daily flights to and from Hong Kong.

“We’re closely monitoring the situation and we will decide soon whether we will maintain or reduce flights. We share the grief and understand the Hong Kong people’s wrath. We are optimistic that fears of traveling to the Philippines will be temporary,” he said in a statement emailed to the newsrooms.

Bautista said PAL has yet to determine the financial impact of the booking cancellations, but admitted that the travel advisory is not helping PAL, which is faced with financial and labor problems.

PAL is waiving the rebooking penalty on PAL tickets issued in Hong Kong for those intending to fly back ahead of schedule.

Tickets may be rebooked by calling PAL’s 24-hour hotline 855-8888 or visiting any PAL ticketing office.

Last Tuesday, acting Tourism Regional Director Rowena Lou Montecillo offered mass and led a vigil at Plaza Sugbo for the victims of the hostage-taking.

Meanwhile, acting CPPO Director Erson Digal said that on the suggestion of Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia, he is considering tapping the expertise of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Los Angeles Police District (LAPD), or New York Police District (NYPD) to train the provincial police’s Special Reaction Unit (SRU).

He said these agencies have a proven track record in handling crisis situations, a factor the governor took into account because she didn’t want the provincial police responding the way the Manila police did to the hostage-taking.

Digal said the governor has assured that Capitol will provide CPPO with funds for the training. (EOB/JTG/PDF/Sunnex)