The latest news stories from the major news organizations in Cebu and Manila in the Philippines, the US and other countries.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

August 26. 2010 Major News Stories

4 SWAT members in hostage crisis relieved of posts

Four members of the Manila police Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team, including its leader, were relieved of their posts Wednesday, two days after the bloody hostage crisis in Manila that left eight Hong Kong tourists and the hostage-taker dead. Manila police chief Chief Superintendent Rodolfo Magtibay also offered to go on leave to give way to an impartial investigation on the issue.
Relieved were Chief Inspector Santiago Pascual, Senior Police Officer 4 Reynaldo Antonio, SPO3 Alfonso Gameng, and SPO2 Bernardo Espinosa, according to Manila Police District (MPD) Chief Superintendent Rodolfo Magtibay.

The head of the MPD SWAT team and three other team leaders were placed on "administrative relief" in the aftermath of Monday's bloody hostage drama, Magtibay said.

The hostage crisis erupted Monday in front of the Quirino Grandstand in Manila's Rizal Park after dismissed Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza hijacked a tourist bus at Fort Santiago, about a kilometer from the grandstand, and held hostage 21 Hong Kong tourists and four Filipinos. Nine people died, including eight Hong Kong tourists and the hostage-taker, who was killed by a sniper's bullet.

Chief Senior Superintendent Agrimero Cruz Jr., the PNP spokesperson, said the four SWAT officials were relieved to keep them from exerting "undue influence" on the committee — the Post Critical Incident Management Committee (PCIMC), composed of the PNP's directorial staff headed by Verzosa — tasked to investigate the incident.

The committee is composed of members of the PNP directorates for investigation and detective management, intelligence, police community relations, and operations.

"On orders of the chief PNP, the investigation will be conducted 24/7, walang tulugan (no sleeping)," Cruz said.

Magtibay goes on leave

President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III meanwhile accepted Magtibay's offer to go on leave following the bloody hostage crisis.

In a press briefing in Malacañang on Wednesday, Aquino said he directed Philippine National Police chief Director General Jesus Verzosa to accept Magtibay's offer to go on leave.

"I respect him [Magtibay] for taking full responsibility – as ground commander – of the outcome of this incident," the President said.

He added that Magtibay's leave status will likely take effect Thursday.

Aquino likewise said that PNP is in the process of coming up with a list of names of police officers who will take over Magtibay's post. 

"We will be submitting this list to Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, and he will be the one to choose from this list, as found in the PNP law," he said.

Magtibay on Wednesday morning said he is willing to go on leave and take responsibility for the bloody outcome of the hostage crisis. 

Aquino stands by Verzosa, Cabinet members

Despite accepting the Manila police chief's offer to go on leave, Aquino said there is no need for Verzosa and other Cabinet members to follow suit.

Verzosa has shown competence in his almost two years as police chief, Aquino said. 

"Marami naman ho yatang achievements si Director Verzosa. Look at the extralegal killings, given the necessary support, during the first three weeks, nasolve yung three of the six. I think he's competent enough to answer all these," he said in the same press briefing. 

The President also brushed off calls by some members of the House of Representatives for Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo, as well as members of the Palace communication group to resign.

He advised the congressmen, mostly from the opposition, to wait for the outcome of the investigation before pointing fingers at anyone.

"I would not want to prejudge the investigation that will be conducted to be spearheaded by the Justice Secretary… Certain members of the House has responded to these statements, and I think there is no need for me to respond," the President said.

4 police officers who led assault suspended

by By Jason Gutierrez, AFP

The Philippines on Wednesday suspended four police officers over a hostage crisis that left eight Hong Kong tourists dead, amid outrage over a myriad of mistakes in the chaotic end to the stand-off.

The suspensions came on a national day of mourning to remember the victims of Monday's ordeal, which began when an ex-policemen hijacked a busload of Hong Kong tourists in a desperate bid to be exonerated of extortion charges.

President Benigno Aquino ordered flags in all government offices to fly at half mast, but anger both in the Philippines and Hong Kong over the handling of the crisis largely overshadowed the gesture.

National police spokesman Senior Superintendent Agrimero Cruz told reporters that the four officers who were suspended had led the 200-strong Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team in attempting to storm the bus.

Cruz said they were suspended so they "did not exert undue influence" in a police investigation into the affair.

The national police force had already admitted in a statement to key mistakes in handling the 12-hour hostage drama.

These included poor negotiations with hijacker Rolando Mendoza, inadequate equipment for the SWAT team, allowing the media to roam around the hostage site and bad crowd control.

The tragedy unfolded live on television, allowing people around the world to watch as the commandos failed to get into the bus for more than an hour after smashing its windows with sledgehammers.

In another apparent mistake, police failed to take the opportunity to shoot Mendoza at one point when he opened the door of the bus and peered out.

Nevertheless Cruz said the tidal wave of anger being directed at the police force was "unfair".

"They (critics) are all in the gallery, watching. They should try being in the line of fire and let us see how they react," he told AFP.

In his briefing to reporters, Cruz said at least 59 empty shells from Mendoza's M-16 assault rifle and 31 from two other small firearms he was carrying were recovered inside the wreckage of the bus.

Autopsies on five of the victims showed they died from gunshots mostly in the head and neck.

But Cruz said it remained too early to say whether the victims had been shot by Mendoza or the police.

He promised the results of the internal police investigation would be released.

"We are conducting this in a very transparent manner," Cruz said.

Aquino has ordered a government inquiry on top of the internal police probe, and promised to fully inform the Hong Kong authorities of the results. But the president's official Faceook page has been inundated with angry messages.

"Shame on you and your government. Tender your resignation now," wrote Elfis Lee, a Hong Kong resident. "Your incompetence of leading your untrained stupid police force caused such a tragedy."

In another effort to ease tensions in Hong Kong, Aquino has formed a high-level delegation that will soon travel to the Chinese territory to brief authorities there.

Manila's consul general to Hong Kong, Claro Cristobal, said he expected vigils and protest marches that could come to a head late Wednesday when the survivors and the remains of the eight are due to be flown back.

He said at least one domestic helper had already complained that her angry bosses had fired her in protest at the hostage deaths.

There are as many as 200,000 Filipinos living in Hong Kong, the vast majority of them working as maids.

Elizabeth Tang, chief executive of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, said "we're worried about people venting their anger and frustration against domestic helpers".

Autopsy report refutes 'survivor's' claims

All eight fatalities of the bus siege at the Quirino Grandstand on Monday died due to gunshot wounds, an autopsy report released on Wednesday revealed.

The eight Hong Kong tourists bore gunshot wounds on the neck and head and there was no evidence their throats were slashed, as an alleged survivor claimed, according to Philippine National
Police spokesman Senior Superintendent Agrimero Cruz Jr.

"All the victims sustained one or two gunshot wounds from high-powered firearms. We have yet to determine the caliber of the firearm," Cruz said in a press conference.

The autopsy report belied the claim of an alleged survivor, who said that hostage-taker Rolando Mendoza slashed the throat of a female victim while tension was high inside the bus.

The account of the alleged survivor, a certain Bang Lu Min, has been circulating online. The account titled "Postscripts to a Bloodbath," claimed that Mendoza slashed the throat of a female Hong Kong national after the disgruntled former policeman's brother was arrested by police.

"A girl about my age started screaming," the account said. "Mr. Mendoza demanded her to stop but she didn't understand English. God, he had to slash her neck with a knife just to put her to rest."

"Her boyfriend who tried to hit him was shot in the head," Bang continued.

However, a check with the list of survivors at the Red Cross revealed that there was no one named Bang Lu Min among the survivors.

Police also denied that the victims' throats were slashed.

"There were victims shot on the neck. They must have assumed that it was slashed with a knife," Cruz said.

He added that the autopsy report could not say if the victims were shot at close range because they had their clothes on and there was no tattooing of the bullets.

But Mendoza himself sustained eight gunshot wounds, with the fatal ones on the head and neck, Cruz said.

"From all indications, Mendoza was hit by sniper fire," he said.

Some survivors, remains of fatalities in return flight to HK

Some of the survivors and the bodies of the victims in the Manila hostage-taking are flying back home to Hong Kong today. A simple turn-over ceremony between Hong Kong, Chinese and Filipino officials at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport was held. Among the Cabinet officials present at the NAIA are DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo, DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman, Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda, Executive Secretary Jojo Ochoa and Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim. 

Bodies of 8 HK tourists turned over to Chinese authorities

MANILA, Philippines - The remains of 8 Hong Kong tourists, who were killed during a hostage drama in Manila on Monday, have been loaded into a chartered Cathay Pacific flight bound for Hong Kong.

3 hostage victims Canadian citizens

MANILA, Philippines - Canada revealed on Wednesday that 3 of the 8 victims in the hostage crisis were citizens of the country.

Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade also confirmed that 2 others had been involved but have otherwise survived the incident.

It did not give further details for reasons of the Privacy Act.

While this may not bode well for the government that has been heavily criticized for its handling of the crisis, the Canadian embassy here committed to "work closely with local authorities."

"Canadian consular officials have offered consular assistance to those involved," it said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said: "It is a terrible and tragic incident, and obviously I want... to express my condolences on... behalf of the entire government to the families of those who have lost loved ones in this particular tragedy."

For his part, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said "Canada welcomes the commitment of Philippine authorities to conduct a full investigation of the incident."

In a related development, BBC News reported that 2 British nationals are among those who survived the hostage crisis.

On its website, BBC said a spokesman for the foreign office had already offered its consular assistance.

Protests may further intensify in HK

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine Embassy in Hong Kong expects to be greeted with more protests in the coming days as the Chinese territory tries to lick its wounds in the aftermath of the hostage incident on Monday.

HK OFWs to hold sympathy rally for hostage crisis victims

Filipino workers' groups in Hong Kong will hold an interfaith prayer rally on Sunday to express their "deepest sympathy" with loved ones of the victims of Monday's hostage crisis in Manila.

CBCP prays for victims of Manila hostage drama

The head of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines on Wednesday prayed for justice and strength for the victims of Monday's bloody hostage episode in Manila and appealed to the international community not to take the tragedy, in which eight Hong Kong and Canadian tourists were killed, against the Filipino.

DILG, DOJ start parallel probe on hostage drama

Two government agencies have started investigating Monday's bloody hostage crisis to determine if lapses had been committed by the concerned authorities that resulted to the death of eight hostages, all of them tourists from Hong Kong.

Family of Mendoza 'extortion victim' laments hostage crisis

MANILA, Philippines – The family of a former hotel chef, whose complaint against dismissed Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza led to the latter's removal from police service, has expressed sorrow over the Manila hostage crisis.

Aquino says sorry for the 'smile'

President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III has apologized to those offended when he was caught on television apparently smiling while being interviewed at the crime scene hours after Monday's bloody hostage-taking.
Aquino said his smile then was maybe just an "expression of exasperation rather than anything."

"My smile might have been misunderstood. I have several expressions. I smile when I'm happy, I smile when I'm faced with a very absurd situation...and if I offended certain people, I apologize to them," he said.

"It's more of an expression maybe of exasperation rather than anything and again, I apologize if I offended certain people, who misunderstood (my) facial expression," he said.

Same police forces handled crisis situation during Arroyo term

The security forces during Monday's hostage crisis are the same police officers who handled hostage crisis situations during the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, her spokesperson Elena Bautista-Horn said Wednesday.

Senators nix news blackout during hostage situations

At least three senators on Wednesday thumbed down the idea of imposing a news blackout during hostage-taking situations.
Senator Loren Legarda described as "unnecessary" Cebu Rep. Luis Quisumbing's House Bill No. 2737, which seeks to impose a news blackout during hostage-takings and other similar situations.

"I don't think a law is necessary," said Legarda, adding that passing and enacting legislation takes years.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile suggested that the authorities should just lay down some ground rules for the media during such incidents. 

"Hindi na kailangan yun (You don't need that), all you have to do is to put a cordon where the media can stay at a distance," he said in a separate interview.

He added that coverage should be allowed as long as it does not hamper police operations. "Pabayaan na natin yun (We should let that pass)," he said.

Senator Ramon Bong Revilla Jr., for his part, said if a news blackout is really needed, the authorities can just coordinate with the media outfits. 

"Dapat mag-usap ang media at ang authorities (The media and authorities should talk it out)," he said.

Quisumbing said the primary intention of his proposed legislation is to protect the lives of policemen and soldiers in such situations.

Media group urges 'self-examination' after hostage crisis

A media group has called on members of the media to examine how they have covered the bloody hostage-taking incident in Manila last Monday that resulted to the death of eight hostages, all of them tourists from Hong Kong.
"We call on colleagues in the media to seriously and comprehensively examine how we covered the crisis and if our coverage in any way contributed to the tragic end of the hostage-taking," the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said in a statement issued Wednesday.

The statement came following criticisms leveled against the media for allegedly contributing to the aggravation of Monday's incident.

The hostage-taker, dismissed Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza, who was killed by policemen in an assault, reportedly became agitated after seeing on TV how his brother was being arrested for allegedly meddling with the negotiation. 


The NUJP said while it is the responsibility of the media to cover and report on important events, guidelines for covering crisis situations, including hostage-takings, have been repeatedly violated by some journalists. 

"Some colleagues clearly violated ethical standards and established procedures and guidelines in covering crisis situations including hostage-taking incidents," the group said. 

It reminded journalists and media organizations to strictly follow the procedures prescribed by media institutions and scholars in covering crisis situations. 

"We urge news organizations to abide by these guidelines and to ensure that those it assigns to cover these crisis situations are adequately trained and informed," the statement read.

The NUJP said Monday's incident highlighted the need for more trainings and education for journalists to ensure that they "do more good than harm" in their performance of their duties. 

"We also encourage media owners, leaders and organizations to meet and agree on a set of protocols for the industry to guide us during similar situations," the statement added.

Govt responsibility

The group nevertheless fell short of saying that the media was partly to blame for the violent conclusion to Monday's incident. 

"The Philippine government and the Philippine National Police have already acknowledged errors and shortcoming in responding to and addressing the incident. We believe that they were primarily responsible for supposedly controlling the situation, ending the crisis and ensuring the safety of the hostages," the NUJP said. 

The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMF) and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) earlier said media networks should not have made a blow-by-blow report of the 11-hour hostage crisis.

No to news blackout

In the same statement, the NUJP said it is against a House bill filed by Cebu Rep. Luis Quisumbing seeking to impose a news blackout during hostage crisis situations.

"We oppose House Bill 2737 filed by Cebu Rep. Luis Quisumbing and similar measures aimed at imposing a media blackout during crisis situations. Legislated restrictions on media coverage are more dangerous and could pave the way for abuses and excesses by authorities in responding to crisis situations," the group said. 

The bill prohibits media personnel from reporting positions, movements and actions of the police and military during hostage-taking situations and other similar incidents like bomb threats, coup d' etat, and kidnapping.

The bill likewise proposes penalties for violations, which include six months to six years of imprisonment or a fine of P20,000.

Aquino House allies kill bills to postpone barangay, SK polls

(UPDATE) The Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) and barangay elections will proceed as scheduled in October this year, like what Malacañang wants, after the House of Representatives "archived" all bills and resolutions calling for its postponement.

Allies of President Benigno Aquino III in the House virtually killed the proposals on Wednesday's hearing of the committee on suffrage and electoral reforms when they voted, 22-15, on a motion to "lay on the table" the 29 bills and resolutions, which in effect would indefinitely suspend deliberations on the measures.

The move came a day after House and Senate leaders met with Aquino to discuss proposed measures to put off the barangay and SK polls.

Minority leader and Albay Representative Edcel Lagman questioned why the minority bloc was left out of the meeting that supposedly tackled legislative matters.

Lagman said that the majority bloc appears bent on "killing the bills" because the President wants the elections to push through

"Treason has been committed against this House because we have not only temporized but we have desisted from performing our function of enacting laws . . . just because the President said that he does not want these bills to be tackled and the elections postponed. These bills are virtually barren and there is no resurrection for these bills," Lagman said in an interview after the hearing.

Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez said the public has been taken for a ride when they were made to believe that Congress is supportive of the postponement.

On Monday's hearing, Rodriguez had a pending motion for the committee to vote on a consolidated bill postponing the barangay and SK elections. He raised objections when on Wednesday's hearing, the motion of Valenzuela Representative Magtanggol Gunigundo to lay the bills on the table was voted on first. 

Cavite Representative Jesus Crispin Remulla also objected to the motion, saying it was the duty of the committee to tackle bills and not to archive them.

Cavite Representative Elpidio Barzaga Jr., the chairman of the committee, denied they followed the orders of the President.

"It's not that. What we are saying is all our efforts will be useless if the House, the Senate and the President do not agree on something," he told reporters.

Deputy majority leader and Iloilo Representative Janet Garin said it was not realistic to pass a law postponing the polls.

"First, we don't have the luxury of time, second, the House and the Senate have yet to agree on the date of the next elections – is it 2011, 2012, 2013?" she said.

"At the end of the day, it is like making the people expect that the elections will be postponed when in fact it will push through?" Garin added.

Cityhood laws unconstitutional: Supreme Court turns cities to towns again

The Supreme Court has ruled with finality about the fate of 16 local government units and it is against their favor.

The High Tribunal reversed its December 21, 2009 ruling last Monday and deemed unconstitutional the laws creating 16 new cities.

Cebu 1st District Rep. Eduardo R. Gullas, in a text message sent to The FREEMAN, confirmed the news.

"Yes, na reverse," the veteran lawmaker said via a text message.

Gullas was authored the bills creating the cities of Naga and Carcar in his district back in 2007.

He did not, however, give further details about the latest SC ruling.

Mayor Valdemar Chiong of Naga said that it was a 7-6 vote "in favor of the LCP" (League of Cities of the Philippines).

Chiong said that they will wait for Rep. Gullas and their lawyer Estelito Mendoza to tell them what their next move would be.

"Ambot, murag kapoy na. Mura'g they (SC) just wanted the LCP to be home for the big boys," said Chiong.

With this latest ruling, Naga and the 15 other LGUs will be municipalities again and would only qualify to have eight councilors. Last May, 10 people were elected into the city council of Naga.

The election of ten members of the council was made based on a ruling of the Commission on Elections last January 5. Such Comelec decision was also based on the December 21, 2009 decision of the SC.

Chiong said that they cannot also just drop the two councilors with the latest ruling as they were also elected by the people.

This latest development came just barely two weeks after the SC junked the motion for leave to intervene filed by former Negros Oriental Rep. Jacinto Paras.

Paras, who authored the cityhood law of Guihulngan, asked the court to reverse its December 21 ruling, saying the conversion of the town into a city was "premature," apart from the fact that it did not improve the living conditions of the people.

He said that instead, the cityhood status, made more officials there corrupt because of the increase in Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA). The High Court did not however give weight to Paras' contention and junked his motion shortly after he filed it which was on June 29 this year.

But contrary to what officials of the 16 new cities believed, that the High Tribunal would stand by its last two decisions, the SC en banc had reversed it again and granted the motion for reconsideration filed by the LCP.

The other new cities are Bogo, also in Cebu; Catbalogan and Borongan in Samar; Tandag, Surigao del Sur; Lamitan, Basilan; Tayabas, Quezon; Tabuk, Kalinga; Bayugan, Agusan del Sur; Batac, Ilocos Norte; Cabadbaran, Agusan del Norte; and El Salvador, Misamis Oriental.

The League of Cities, chaired by Mandaluyong City Mayor Benhur Abalos, has questioned the creation of the new cities, saying they did not meet the P100-million income requirement prescribed by a new law.

The Supreme Court first sustained the view of the league but later reversed itself and ruled that the conversion of the towns was legal, as they were not covered by the new income standard but by the previous P20-million income requirement. 

City dengue cases hit the 1,000 mark

The number of dengue cases in Cebu City reached the 1,000 mark yesterday.

P9 million needed for desilting of Tejero creek

The city government would need P9 million for the desilting of the creek in Barangay Tejero to improve the city's drainage system in anticipation of continued heavy rainfall in the coming months.

Two roads leading to SM getting fixed

Works are already underway to fix the roads at the North Reclamation Area (NRA) that lead to SM City - Cebu.

DILG: Boracay trip 'excessive'

EVEN before they can leave for a four-day training seminar in Boracay Island, some 80 officials of the Cebu City Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) are facing questions regarding the trip.

At P15,000 per participant, a Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) official and some barangay officials find the travel and seminar expenses too big, and asked the SK Federation to justify the trip.

Updates on President Benigno Aquino III's presidency

Among the questions they asked is why the SK chairman and councilors of the different barangays have to go to the island resort of Boracay in Aklan Province for a seminar on promoting the welfare of the youth and children.

"Some of the barangay captains are concerned about their expenses, which might be disallowed by COA (the Commission on Audit) because they are spending a lot to go to Boracay for a training. If they get a disallowance, we will have a hard time getting approval for our SK budget for next year. That's what worries the barangay officials," said Basak San Nicolas Barangay Captain George Rama.

Five of his SK councilors are joining the trip, and will pay P15,000 each using their SK funds, he said.

The amount is beyond the limit set by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for the trainings of barangay and SK officials, which is P2,000 a day, which is why the barangay captains warned of a disallowance by COA.

Cebu City SK Federation president Rengelle Pelayo, an ex-officio member of the Cebu City Council, justified the trip, saying it will be an opportunity for them to learn about youth and children's welfare.

"This is capability building for the City's SK. Whatever will be our output during the seminar, we will be echoing this to those who will not be able to join. Although our term will end by October, I think it will still be useful... It will also be a chance for us to get together, it will be a farewell gathering of sorts," she said.

She clarified that only the P2,000 a day or P8,000 for four days out of the P9,400 seminar fee will be charged to the SK funds of the barangays, after the Cebu City auditor reminded them of the limitations on training expenses.

After discussing the matter with the Commission on Audit (COA) officials yesterday, Pelayo said that she and some SK officials agreed that anything in excess of the P8,000 will be for the personal account of the participant.

They also met with the seminar organizers last night to work out an arrangement and adjustment of the seminar fees to comply with the DBM rules.

Cebu City auditor Attorney Eva Cabrera declined from commenting on the SK officials' trip, saying the documents have not reached their office yet because they don't conduct a pre-audit of the transactions of the SK and the barangays.

She reminded the participants, though, to follow the limitations set by the DBM and other government agencies.

"The transactions that could be disallowed are those that are illegal, excessive, unnecessary, unconscionable and extravagant, and among those that have to be considered is the venue. They will just have to comply with the limitations," Cabrera told Sun.Star Cebu.

She added that the participants will also have to justify their expenses and show that the trip was not extravagant or unnecessary.

The trip was planned amid the suggestions of some lawmakers to abolish the SK for being irrelevant, and amid calls to postpone the SK elections until the organization can be restructured.

"We have submitted the documents to the accounting office last July yet, or even earlier. If were told earlier that it is not allowed or the expenses are too much, we would not have pushed through with it. The checks for the seminar expenses were already released so we thought everything is in order... It's too late to back out now, most of us already have our plane tickets," said Pelayo.

Pelayo said they were invited by Marywoods Training Center to attend the seminar at La Carmela de Boracay Resort Hotel from Aug. 28 to 31. She said it was the organizer, not the SK officials, who initiated the training and chose the venue.

As of yesterday, 76 SK chairman and councilors have registered to join the activity.

Most of the participants have already paid for the full seminar fee and have purchased their airline tickets, but Pelayo admitted they still don't have an authority to travel from the DILG.

DILG Cebu City Director Patricio Gabuya said he advised Pelayo to secure the authority from their regional office to avoid any disallowance by COA.

"The regional director would issue authorization for their travel and upon application, they will have to explain that the use of government funds is justifiable. Dako-dako ra ba gyud ang ilang gasto, that is why I told Rengelle to be sure to ask for authorization," Gabuya said.

The seminar fee of P9,400 covers the snacks, seminar kits and payment for the speakers and venue for the training.

Pelayo said they were informed by the City Accounting Office that a seminar participant is entitled to only P1,200 a day for their seminar fees and P800 for their per diem, which they intend to use for their accommodations and meals.

The seminar on "Enhancing Barangay and SK Administration" will tackle youth, children and environmental issues. The invited speakers are from DILG central office and the National Youth Commission.

Even if they will be relinquishing their post to a new set of SK officials after the SK elections this October, Pelayo said the seminar is not ill-timed since they will pass on what they learn to their successors.

Rama to give P500T assistance to Daanbantayan for its festival

THE Cebu City Government is open to extending financial assistance to Daanbantayan town after the Provincial Government refused to do so.

RDC 7 lists P1.7B projects

THE Regional Development Council (RDC) 7 has proposed P1.770 billion worth of infrastructure projects for the cities of Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu and the Municipality of Consolacion under the Prioritized

DA releases P100M for micro-finance in El Niño-stricken areas

The Agriculture Department on Wednesday ordered the release of P100 million for the micro-finance program of farmers and fisherfolk in areas affected by the El Niño weather phenomenon.

DOT chief mulls re-branding RP to regain tourist confidence

Expecting a blow to the country's tourism in the aftermath of the bloody hostage crisis, Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim said the agency was coming up with a plan to launch a new Philippine brand to draw foreign vacationers into the country.

Pagcor remits P890-M to gov't in July

MANILA, Philippines - State-run Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) remitted P890 million to government coffers in July.

BPS to remitt P9B to national coffers - Sen. Drilon

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) agreed to transmit more than P9 billion in remittances to the national government. The money was supposed to have been remitted between 2003 and 2006, but a dispute between the BSP and the Commission on Audit on the manner of computation bogged down the transfer.

Mines Bureau expects P10B in mining taxes, fees, royalties

The Mines and Geosciences Bureau on Wednesday reported that the national government would earn at least P10 billion in taxes, fees, and royalties from mining operations this year, from P9.18 in 2009.

Mayweather to fight in Dubai

MANILA, Philippines – Undefeated American fighter Floyd Mayweather, Jr. disclosed that he is set to return to the ring but did not name his opponent.

Bata Reyes, Django team up in World Cup of Pool

The sight of Francisco "Django" Bustamante hoisting his partner and buddy, Efren "Bata" Reyes, proved to be a savoring moment for Filipino billiards fans last year.

Palace: Hijacked bus not a tourist attraction

Malacañang on Wednesday appealed to Filipinos to stop taking pictures and strolling around the site of Monday's bloody hostage-taking in Manila that left eight Hong Kong tourists dead.

Interpreter needed for Pinoy beauty queens?

MANILA, Philippines - Like contenders from non-English-speaking nations, Filipinos competing in international beauty pageants should be allowed to speak in Tagalog, Miss Universe 1969 Gloria Diaz has suggested.

Senate OKs resolution commending Venus Raj

The Senate on Wednesday adopted a resolution congratulating and commending Miss Philippines Venus Raj for being crowned fourth runner-up in the 2010 Miss Universe Pageant.

PNP failed to use manual on dealing with press in emergencies

The Philippine National Police apparently forgot to enforce the manual on police-media relations it crafted nearly four years ago in anticipation precisely of situations like the deadly Luneta hostage-taking incident last Monday.

PNP Memorandum Circular No. 2006-022 issued on November 21, 2006 established specific guidelines on how the police should deal with members of the media.

More importantly it laid down basic rules for media coverage during crisis situations like hostage-taking. These rules include "limited live telecast" and limited close-ups of police positions while the situation is going on.

None of these rules were observed during the 11-hour standoff at the Quirino Grandstand last Monday that ended in the death of eight tourists and the hostage-taker, dismissed Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza after a botched rescue and failed negotiations.

The manual said there must be a designated police spokesman who should meet with the media "to agree to basic rules of coverage."

The spokesman is supposed to request the media not to describe the positions of snipers and the activities of police operatives in the area. The spokesman should also stress to members of the media to stay out of the line of fire and to keep in mind the "security and success of the operations."

The manual said the police should establish a "broadcast area" and a separate news center at the scene of the incident "apart from a regular police line."

It said there should be regular press briefings by the spokesman or by the actual police negotiator "if the circumstances allow."

"Make sure that during the initial press briefing, the media is made to understand that there might be some information that you can not give them in advance or if they gain access to it by other means, ensure you have their cooperation and commitment not to release the information until it is safe for the operation to do so," the manual said.

It also stressed that the identity of the hostage-taker and the hostages should be kept confidential while the operations are going on to avoid "conjectures and undue panic."

On the other hand, the media should agree not to telephone a hostage-taker and to immediately notify the police if they get any calls from hostage-takers. The media should not make the conversations public "without first conferring with the police negotiator for advice," according to the manual.

The media should also agree to a "limited use of live telecasting and close-ups of the actual windows where police officers may be stationed," it added.

PNP personnel were told to extend "reasonable courtesy" to the news media at crime scenes as long as they do not interfere with the police mission.

However, the manual said, the news media should not be allowed access to a crime scene until after the scene of the crime operatives have finished their work.

"To adequately prepare for crisis, a proactive strategy based on containment and counteraction rather than a reactive strategy based on hesitation, denial or confrontation must be developed," the manual said.

"The best course a spokesperson can take is through an open communication policy. In terms of crisis management, the open system is the much easier one in which to operate," it said.

Former national police chief Oscar Calderon, now head of the Bureau of Corrections, signed the 2006 PNP memorandum that spelled out its media relations policy.

British expert tells how hostages should have been rescued

by By Ma. Rosanna Mina,
MANILA, Philippines – The Manila Police District (MPD) could have confronted the August 23 Manila bus hostage-taking with better equipment and strategies, a British security analyst said.

Charles Shoebridge, who has worked in counter-terrorism with the British Army and Scotland Yard, told BBC News that there were 10 things that the MPD got wrong in dealing with siege. The article "Ten things the Philippines bus siege police got wrong" is the most shared and 3rd most read story of the BBC News website as of posting time.

Although the Philippine policemen were courageous, he said that they lacked training, equipment and determination.

Shoebridge said the detachment deployed to the Rizal Park was evidently not trained to deal with hostage-taking.

He cited that an officer put some tear gas inside the bus but "to what effect was not clear."

The Briton elaborated on the MPD's lack of equipment, saying that they should have brought short submachine guns instead of pistols and assault rifles because they are more apt to use in confined places.

"They had no ladders to get through the windows. They smashed the windows but didn't know what to do next," Shoebridge added. "They almost looked like a group of vandals."

He even mentioned that it took a long time for the policemen to smash the windows of the bus. He said that explosive charges (frame charges) would have knocked broken windows and doors in an instant.

Moreover, the British security expert said that the officers showed their lack of determination when they got out of the bus after Mendoza fired off some gunshots.

"They showed great courage to go on board. It's very crowded, just one aisle down the middle of the bus. But once you get on board it's not unexpected you are going to be fired at," he noted.

"Squads like this have to be made up of very special people, specially trained and selected for their characteristics of courage, determination and aggression. In this case they acted as 99% of the population would have, which was to turn round and get out. They didn't seem to have the necessary determination and aggression to follow the attack through."

Lost opportunities

Shoebridge then mentioned that the MPD missed several chances in the hostage-taking incident.

Firstly, the police failed to disarm their former colleague who was dismissed due to an Ombudsman ruling in 2008. The case stemmed from extortion charges filed against him by a student. 
"The negotiators were so close to him, and he had his weapon hanging down by his side. He could have been disabled without having to kill him."

Secondly, the police could have shot Mendoza as there were instances when he was just standing alone.

"You are dealing with an unpredictable and irrational individual. The rule should be that if in the course of negotiations an opportunity arises to end the situation decisively, it should be taken," he stated.

Shoebridge also said that authorities could have reinstated Mendoza so that the hostage-taking could have been resolved much earlier.

"I wondered why the authorities just didn't give in to all of his demands," he remarked.

"A promise extracted under force is not a promise that you are required to honor. Nobody wants to give in to the demands of terrorists, but in a situation like this, which did not involve a terrorist group, or release of prisoners, they could have just accepted his demands. He could be reinstated in the police - and then be immediately put in prison for life for hostage taking."

Another "miss" of the police was using hostage-taker's brother, SPO2 Gregorio Mendoza, to negotiate. The police even arrested Gregorio for being an accessory to the crime.

It has been said that Gregorio's arrest agitated his brother which led to the bloodbath in the tourist bus.

"Relatives and close friends can be a double-edged sword, Mr. Shoebridge says," the BBC News wrote.

Media and crowd control

The British analyst also cited the media coverage as it caused Mendoza to be aware of what was happening around him.

He said it was a "crucial defect in the police handling."

Shoebridge said the police could have prevented the media from reporting at the scene by placing screens and barriers in the area.

He added that there was no element of surprise, thanks to the media's extensive coverage.

But he said that the policemen were also at fault for not distracting the hostage-taker and even moving "laboriously slowly."

The police also failed to safeguard the public. A bystander, a 10-year-old boy, was hurt following the gunfire.

"When you saw the camera view from above, it was clear there was little command and control of the public on the ground," Shoebridge said.

How to do it

The Serbian Special Forces, meantime, demonstrated how to break into a bus in a training video uploaded on YouTube.

The video entitled "special operation serbia," however, was not aimed at educating the Philippine police as it was uploaded on January 29, 2008.

It showed the Serbian Special Forces assaulting a parked bus by smashing and firing shots at the windows and using a ramp to quickly enter the bus through the windows.

The MPD did not have a ramp or ladder when they were trying to get into the tourist bus on Monday.

Aside from breaking into the bus, the video also showed the Serbian Special Forces scaling from helicopter ropes, breaking into a parked train car, scaling down a building, stopping a convoy and target shooting.

Netizen akosironin commented on the YouTube video's page: "Wish Manila Police was this good." 

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