MEMBERS of the Special Weapons and Tactics (Swat) in Lapu-Lapu City demonstrated yesterday their readiness in handling a hostage situation, as the police continued to do damage control after last Monday’s crisis.

In the exercise, Senior Insp. Conrado Manatad negotiated for the release of six “hostages” held in a bus by an M16-wielding man, while 19 Swat members prepared to storm the bus.

Updates on President Benigno Aquino III's presidency

Lapu-Lapu’s Swat has received from City Hall two night vision goggles, sniper weapons, Kevlar vests and tiny microphones that allow them to communicate during an operation.

But like the policemen in last Monday’s hostage drama, they lack gas masks. Eight Hong Kong tourists died after being held nearly 11 hours by dismissed policeman Rolando Mendoza. One of the reasons the Manila police could not storm the bus where they were held was the lack of gas masks.

Mayor Paz Radaza asked Acting City Police Director Mariano Natuel after the exercise to submit a list of the Swat’s needs, so City Hall can prepare a budget for them.

Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia is also awaiting the recommendation of Provincial Police Director Erson Digal on the training and equipment needs of the Special Reaction Unit (SRU).

“To make sure that our SRU is kept abreast with the latest techniques, training and equipment, at least those that we can afford,” Capitol consultant on information and revenue generation Rory Jon Sepulveda told reporters yesterday.

General managers of different hotels and resorts witnessed yesterday’s exercise in Lapu-Lapu.

But while they appreciated the equipment that Lapu-Lapu’s Swat carried and the readiness the team showed, they admitted some worries about how Monday’s incident will effect tourism and how well similar incidents will be handled.

Shangrila Mactan’s Joachim Schutte suggested vital intelligence-gathering on the situation, before mounting an assault on a hostage-taker.

Natuel admitted an exercise is much easier than the actual situation, but what is important is that the police stay prepared and work on their skills.

Digal, in a separate interview, said the provincial police force needs at least 40 additional tourist police to be fielded in Cebu’s top tourist spots.

“We have at least 20 trained tourist police in the province,” Digal said.

As of the moment, the tourist police are spread out in Cebu’s top tourist destinations like Sta. Fe, San Francisco in Camotes, Malapascua in Daanban-tayan, and Moalboal.

The tourist police will also be further trained, Digal said.

Last Tuesday, Police Regional Office (PRO) 7 Director Ager Ontog Jr. ordered an increase in police visibility and constant patrols in tourist spots.

In a visit to Cebu yesterday, Sen. Loren Legarda said that as chairperson of the Senate committee on foreign relations, she wants “an immediate, proper and transparent” investigation.

The former broadcaster said she is inclined to support House Bill 2737, filed by Rep. Luis Quisumbing that says media coverage should be contained as not to hinder or obstruct efforts to resolve the crisis situation.

“The KBP (Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas), media practitioners, and relevant government agencies can discuss whether a media blackout is necessary,” she said.

She also said that the government should also be responsible for giving the media guidelines in covering sensitive parts of the negotiation.

“In the absence of such advisory, the media will cover in their own way. Nothing was governing the coverage. Dapat may sinabing black-out,” Legarda said. (AIV/KAL/JGA/RRF)