THE Baguio city police office has, at least, two vans with the marking "Swat". These police vehicles are sometimes seen parked near the city police headquarters. Sometimes, they are seen on the road, presumably on patrol?
The question is, do we have properly and highly trained Swat team members to provide immediate and corresponding action, just in case? Or, are they only for show?
Considering what took place Monday, August 23, in the case of what appeared to be a bungled operation in the case of the Luneta Park hostage crisis, the local Swat team should take its lesson from the Manila experience.
The Luneta (Quirino grandstand) hostage incident started peacefully enough with the hostage taker, dismissed former Manila police Rolando Mendoza even earlier setting free some of the hostages. This situation, however, came to an abrupt violence towards the end of the 11-hour incident resulting to the death of eight of the remaining 21 hostages, all Chinese nationals and residents of Hong Kong on a tourist jaunt to Manila.
During the shootout that followed with the Swat team surrounding the tourist bus containing the Sino tourists, the hostage taker himself, Mendoza, was also killed reportedly by police sniper gunfire. Four other Filipino personnel of the tourist bus were able to go through the ordeal shaken, but unhurt.
Now, to reiterate, if such a situation similar to the Manila incident ever takes place, God forebids, in Baguio will our own Swat team be able to carry on its role successfully with minimal or no loss of lives to the hostages? Baguio has always been a peaceful city, but being itself a tourist destination point, one can never tell when a hostage crisis will come about.
Anyway, the Manila incident immediate fallout is a dip in the tourism industry of the country. The next day, Tuesday, Hong Kong authorities issued a travel ban of its residents to the Philippines. Some other countries reportedly followed suit. Henceforth, all Hong Kong residents as well as those of Chinese mainland were advised to cut tourist visits to Manila and the country in general. This cut in Chinese tourist arrivals which constitute a sizeable portion of Philippine travel guests is seen to project a negative effect, income-wise, on the country's tourism industry.
Now, the Chinese authorities demand a quick end to the investigation on the Manila carnage by a probe committee ordered formed by President Benigno Aquino III. Will the probe headed by the Department of Justice under Secretary Leila de Lima come up with plausible counter moves to effectively address any other hostage event in the future? Will the probe also result to some heads rolling among officials and police brass over the ineffective and generally incompetent handling of the Manila incident? Future events should answer these questions.
Anyway, one of the principal players in the hostage incident, Chief Supt. Rodolfo Magtibay, Manila police district director, has gone on leave ostensibly to preclude influencing the investigation on the case.
In his place Sr. Supt. Francisco Villaroman, who is himself facing abduction charges involving two Chinese nationals, have been named as Officer-in-charge of the Manila police office.
The demand of Chinese authorities for an expeditious handling of the probe on the Luneta incident, perhaps pinpointing responsibility for the killing of the Sino tourists should somehow placate the ruffled relations between China, Hong Kong and the Philippines, leading to the restoration of normal and reciprocal relations.
One aspect of the Manila incident is the airing over television, blow by blow, of negotiations over the hostage event and preparations being made by the Swat team on the rescue operation for the hostages. Unknown to many, particularly, the police people, the hostage taker, Mendoza, has full knowledge of the police preparations through the TV set inside the tourist bus. In fact, it was the arrest of Mendoza's brother, Gregorio, himself a city cop, which appeared to have triggered off the shooting of hostages inside the bus.
Initially, Mendoza who was dismissed from the police service in January this year for charges of extortion, demanded for his reinstatement to his old post. He claimed he was unjustly dismissed from the police which was denied by officials of the Ombudsman. Anyway, nothing came out of his demand. What followed were the killing orgy and eventually the death of Mendoza himself. By the way, we can't help commenting on what was a comic stance in the face of the serious situation on hand when Swat policemen repeatedly banged on the rearview glass of the tourist bus with a sledged hammer. Failing in this, they tried to open the bus door with a rope which also failed. Although SWAT members eventually got inside the bus, it was too late to prevent the tourist killing by Mendoza.
The bungling in the rescue effort has now turned to the usual finger pointing with questions like who was the head of the crisis committee? Why were ranking officials such as Secretary Jesse Robredo of the Department of Interior and Local Government, PNP Director General Jesus Verzosa and others not visible within the hostage area? Was P-Noy abreast of the situation at all time during the hostage crisis? According to Magtibay, it was Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim who chaired the crisis management committee and who reportedly gave the order for the arrest of Mendoza's brother, Gregorio, and which allegedly prompted Mendoza to go on the rampage killing eight Chinese tourists inside the bus. This allegation was denied by Mayor Lim.
Also being asked are questions as to why the SWAT team members not in the standard hostage crisis operation gears like gas masks, body protection and short automatic firearms. The lack of such equipment gave the impression that the SWAT team was not in the best position to effect rescue and protection for the hostaged tourists which has now developed into a full blown international critical event between the Philippines and China.
Now as to which heads will roll, if any, as a result of the on-going probe of the incident, will be known at the close of the investigation.
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CENTENNIAL MEMORABILIA. With the close of Baguio's centennial year on August 31 fast approaching, interested parties still have a last chance to avail of centennial souvenir items. Jojie Yap of the Centennial Souvenir Shop at the second floor of SM City's exhibit area has this to say " LAST DAY chance to catch the butterfly" at the Centennial Souvenir Shop at SM, Baguio. The public is urged to avail of this opportunity to own a symbol and souvenir item of Baguio's celebration of its 100th charter anniversary.
Many other centennial souvenir items, including copies of the coffee table book on the centenary of Baguio are available at the Baguio Centennial Commission Office at the Baguio Convention Center. WATCH OUT for the ONE DAY SALE on Wednesday, September 01 at the Baguio Convention Center Lobby!