Hong Kong police will study bullets test fired from guns used by a Manila hostage taker in an incident that left eight of the city’s tourists dead, reports said yesterday.
The incident, which strained relations between Hong Kong and Manila, has raised questions about whether the tourists were killed by a lone gunman — disgruntled ex-cop Rolando Mendoza — or by police during their botched rescue operation on Aug. 23.
Mendoza was shot dead by Philippine police, ending a 12-hour standoff drama played out on live television around the world.
Two police officers from Hong Kong on Thursday brought back spent shells after test firing Mendoza’s weapons, an M16 assault rifle and .45 caliber pistol, Hong Kong media reported.
The officers were held up at the airport in Manila on Thursday on doubts over whether they had clearance to take the bullets and casings out of the country.
“Mr Li Kwai-wah (李桂華), chief inspector from Hong Kong, was actually authorized to bring those shells with him to Hong Kong. They have a clearance from the Philippine National Police,” Philippine Justice Undersecretary Jose Vicente Salazar said on Thursday. “It was just that, at this time, all those items related to the [bus hijack] investigation being brought out must be cleared by the Department of Justice.”
Salazar said the police officers were later granted clearance to take the bullets to Hong Kong.
“In fact the [Chinese] police attache admitted that they failed to obtain [justice department] clearance,” he said.
Police in the Chinese territory declined to say why the bullets and casings had been brought back to Hong Kong or discuss their probe.
“[We] are now actively investigating the case. Since the police will prepare and submit a death report to the coroner, it is not appropriate for the police to release any detailed information about the investigation to the media at this stage,” they said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III took control of the national police yesterday as disgraced senior officials acknowledged that serious lapses had led to the deaths of eight Hong Kong tourists.
Aquino told reporters he was taking responsibility for the Aug. 23 debacle that drew the ire of Hong Kong and Beijing, with losses from tourist cancellations hitting millions of dollars and the Philippines reeling from bad publicity.
Aquino, facing his first major crisis after barely two months in office, said he was temporarily taking over supervision of the police from the interior secretary.
“At the end of the day, I am responsible for everything that has transpired,” Aquino said.
His spokesman, Sonny Coloma, said the president was determined to reform the police force.
An investigation into the botched rescue effort began yesterday with Philippine Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno — who had been put in charge of police operations during the hostage crisis — and national police chief Jesus Verzosa saying the authorities’ objective was to exhaust the gunman through negotiations because police thought they could save all the lives.
The 11-hour negotiations with Mendoza, a dismissed police captain who was demanding his job back, came to an abrupt end when he started shooting his captives after watching his brother being handcuffed by officers for interfering in the negotiations, police said.