The Philippines admitted yesterday it had bungled a hostage siege in which eight tourists were killed and which piled pressure on Philippine President Benigno Aquino III to pull the country out of years of poor management and decline.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) said the assault team which tried to rescue 15 tourists from Hong Kong, held on a bus by a gunman, was inadequately trained, armed and led.
There was anger in China and Hong Kong over the chaotic rescue and demands for a thorough investigation.
The gunman, a sacked policeman who was angry at being dismissed, was killed by police. Eight of the hostages were killed, either by the gunman or in the siege, and one is in a critical condition.
“In an assault to rescue hostages and save lives, the operations should be swift and precise,” retired police general Rodolfo Mendoza said.
“It should be over in five minutes, but what we saw was comical,” added the former intelligence and counterterrorism officer about the rescue operation that lasted well over an hour.
Hong Kong advised residents not to travel to the Philippines, and China’s Global Times said the botched rescue reflected a deeper malaise.
“The Philippines is one of the most chaotic countries in Southeast Asia,” the newspaper said. “A culture of colonization, autocracy and rapid changes in government have created all sorts of curious grievances in this country.”
The police said its command group noted “some observations and defects” in handling the crisis, including “inadequate training and competence of assault team leader” and “inadequate capability, skills, equipment and planning of the assault team.”
Other issues included poor handling of hostage negotiations, side issues and events that agitated the hostage-taker, improper crowd control and a breakdown of media relations procedures in a hostage situation which was beamed live by global news networks.
Aquino rang Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang (曾蔭權) yesterday, after Tsang criticized the rescue and said the Philippine president had not contacted him or returned his call.
Aquino has also declared today a “national day of mourning” as a sign of solidarity with Hong Kong, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
He said all government offices would fly the Philippine national flag at half mast today, although they would remain open for business.
Lacierda said Aquino was also set to meet China’s envoy to Manila, Liu Jianchao (劉建超), yesterday to brief him on the hostage crisis.
He said Aquino also promised the Chinese side a speedy investigation into the incident as well as protection of its nationals visiting the Philippines.
In Taipei, Ministry of Foreign Affairs deputy spokesman James Chang (章計平) yesterday said the ministry considered the hostage situation an isolated incident and would not elevate its travel alert for the Philippines, keeping it at level gray — meaning travelers “are advised to stay alert.”
The level gray is the lowest among the ministry’s four travel alert categories. A gray alert has been in place for the Philippines since July 14 because of poor public order and hygiene.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY FLORA WANG