Wed, Oct 13, 2010 - Page 5 News List

Aquino spares top cops in rescue

DAMAGED TIES:Chinese and Hong Kong officials have yet to respond to the new development, but have said that the botched rescue attempt had blighted relations

AP, MANILA

The Philippine president on Monday spared top police and security officials from criminal prosecution for a bungled hostage rescue in which eight Hong Kong tourists died, drawing criticism from a survivor.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said seven officials instead would face administrative actions. The National Police Commission and the Interior Department would investigate them for administrative lapses including gross incompetence, neglect of duty and misconduct.

Possible sanctions include dismissal without pay.

A fired police officer, Rolando Mendoza, took dozens of Hong Kong tourists hostage on a bus in August to push his demand that he be reinstated. The drama played out for 11 hours before the gunman opened fire at the hostages and police finally broke into the bus and killed him.

In Hong Kong, a survivor who was freed in the early hours of the hostage-taking was upset that Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim escaped criminal charges.

“He made the most mistakes. He is the leader, so he should be punished. Now the government has just found a few scapegoats,” 72-year-old Li Yick-biu told reporters.

Chinese and Hong Kong officials did not immediately react on Monday, but the bungled rescue has damaged their relations with the Philippines. They warned against travel there and thousands of tourists canceled bookings.

Aquino, less than two months into a presidency he pledged would fight corruption and incompetence, sought to placate leaders in China and Hong Kong with an investigation he said was conducted with speed and fairness.

“I pledged from the very start that there would be accountability,” Aquino told reporters on Monday, adding that apart from the administrative action, the government was taking steps to improve the training of security forces.

Adopting most of the recommendations of a fact-finding committee led by the justice secretary, Aquino said he was backing the initiation of administrative proceedings against Manila police chief Rodolfo Magtibay, police director Leocadio Santiago, Lim as well as two senior police operatives.

Among other lapses, the report blamed Magtibay and Lim for leaving the scene for a restaurant before the hostage-taker started shooting the captives. The police chief allegedly defied Aquino’s order to deploy an elite police commando team and instead used local SWAT members, the report said.

Magtibay was relieved shortly after the fiasco, while Lim, himself a former Manila police chief, had angrily denied the allegations.

It will be up to Aquino to decide what administrative sanctions Lim should face, while the cases of the police officers will be left to their superiors.

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