MANILA -- Mayor Alfredo Lim denied claims that he ordered the arrest of the hostage-taker's brother at the height of the crisis in Quirino Grandstand last Monday.
"Ang sabi ko lang, dalhin na yan sa (MPD) headquarter (I just told them to bring Mendoza to MPD headquarter)," Lim said.
On Thursday Chief Superintendent Rodolfo Magtibay, who was relieved from Manila Police District (MPD) after "failing miserably" in handling the crisis, said in during a Senate hearing that Lim ordered the arrest of Senior Police Officer 2 Gregorio Mendoza for allegedly conspiring with his brother.
Gregorio is the younger brother of dismissed police officer Rolando Mendoza, who held 20 Hong Kong tourists at a historic Manila park, demanding reinstatement.
Magtibay was apparently forced to name the Manila mayor following repeated questioning of Senator Ramon "Bong” Revilla Jr.
The mayor said that Magtibay repeatedly said in his previous statement that he was taking responsibility for the entire incident. "He seemed to be singing a different tune," Lim said.
"Magtibay’s press conference will speak for itself. He said that the buck stops with him. I’m surprised why he’s answering differently to the same question now," said Lim.
Gregorio also said in a television interview early Thursday that it was Lim who ordered his arrest.
For his part, Vice Mayor Isko Moreno said that Lim directed him to check with the authorities on the situation at the Quirino Grandstand and see what the local government can do to help.
Moreno said that after Magtibay ordered for Gregorio to be brought to the headquarters, the situation was very calm as the police escort even casually told Gregorio, "halika na (Let's go)."
To everybody’s surprise however, Gregorio ran to where the media converged and started creating a scene.
Initially, he assisted the authorities, particularly the negotiators in seeking the end to the standoff.
Gregorio was allowed to see his brother, accompanied by two negotiators, when a letter from the Ombudsman was delivered to the disgruntled suspect at the height of the hostage crisis in Quirino Grandstand.
Instead of appeasing his brother, Gregorio however disappointed the negotiators when he told his brother, "Tol, huwag ka munang bibigay dahil di pa nila sina-uli ang baril ko (Brother, do not surrender to them. They have not yet returned my hand gun)."
Magtibay also told the Senate inquiry that with Lim’s order, he directed his men to escort Gregorio to the police headquarters but unfortunately his relatives intervened and resisted the police order.
The ensuing commotion was shown live on national television and reported on the radio and this was seen, as admitted by the tourist bus driver, and agitated the hostage-taker who threatened he would start shooting his captives.
Moments later, shots were heard from inside the bus at the Quirino Grandstand forcing the MPD Special Weapons and Tactics (Swat) team to assault the vehicle triggering the firefight.
But it took nearly an hour for the Swat team to gain entry to the bus as Mendoza fired at them repeatedly using his M-16 rifle.
Rolando Mendoza released several children and elderly hostages early on, but later opened fire on the remaining hostages. Eight people were killed before a police sniper took him out.
Senators also questioned Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo for his "non-participation" in the hostage crisis.
Robredo explained that he was in the site but left the negotiation to the proper authorities than personally intervening in the talks.
Magtibay was likewise hit by the lawmakers for the poor performance of the Swat team, citing the "over delayed" assault and ill-equipped operatives that conducted the assault.
He was also criticized for not using the Special Action Force (SAF) operatives despite being in the area and insisted the utilization of the MPD Swat team.
“I believed the MPD Swat team can find ways to carry out properly the operations,” Magtibay said.
He admitted that Swat operatives failed to bring their gas masks when they assaulted the bus.
Senator Jinggoy Estrada lambasted Magtibay for using the Swat team to assault and try to rescue the hostages despite their lack of proper equipment.
Among equipment missing are armor vest, Kevlar helmets, night vision goggles, gas masks and even such simple tools as breaching equipment and ladder.
Earlier, National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) Director Leocadio Santiago, who was also at the probe, admitted that the SAF could have better handled the job than the Swat.
Senator Revilla also questioned the negotiation team's negation on the demands of the suspect. "You can give all and offer anything just to rescue the hostages."
Senator Vicente "Tito" Sotto III meantime appealed to Filipinos not to blame themselves for the botched rescue operation.
Sotto said while he was saddened by what had happened, there is no point to over blame, adding that other countries have been place in similar situations in the past.
"I’m saddened. There's this Filipino practice of self flagellation. I don’t think we should over blame ourselves for what has happened. We should not worry too much on the international repercussion," he said.
He added that Filipinos should take comfort in the words posted by renowned movie actor and Hong Kong resident Jacky Chan in his Twitter account easing the concerns about retaliation against Filipino workers there.
Also present were Police Chief Inspector Santiao Pascual, commander of the MPD's Special Weapon and Tactics; Manila Vice Mayor Moreno; representatives from the Commission on Human Rights, and broadcast journalist Erwin Tulfo. (JP/AH/AP/Sunnex)