GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/26 August) — In the aftermath of the bloody August 24 hostage crisis that splattered worldwide, President Bengino S. Aquino III rationalized, ordered the Secretary of Justice to conduct a “thorough” investigation; so did the Philippine National Police Director who, while admitting mistakes, yet justifying the “rescue?” operation.
Has President Aquino realized that he just flunked a test that could have amounted to a grand slam for his young presidency; that he could have saved the day for the Chinese tourists and assured the future for Philippine tourism had he demonstrated rare decisiveness in time of crisis?
Apologies to Hongkong Authority and to the China Government, declaring August 25 a day of mourning, and offering other forms of atonement and consolation were futile substitutes for the lack of presidential decisiveness.
That hostage-taking was not a simple police case. It involved foreign tourists unfortunately caught in a probable case of injustice against a bemedaled police senior inspector (captain) dismissed and stripped of his retirement benefits at 55, the eve of his retirement.
With the lives of foreign tourists at stake, the Department of Tourism was concerned; so was the Department of Foreign Affairs since the incident had international implications. And as concerned, too, were the Department of Interior and Local Government which is in control of the National Police and the City Mayor of Manila.
The drama lasted for 11 hours. Not one of those departments was reported to have intervened. The resolution of the drama was left to the SWAT with full media coverage. Tact and persuasion, not force, should have been the solution.
Hostage-taker Rolando Mendoza was asking for two things, both doable: a reconsideration of his case and reinstatement; and, a media person to mediate. He gave a 10-hour deadline and later extended it indefinitely.
President Aquino could have easily defused the crisis. He could have sent his spokesman, or his press secretary, or even his executive secretary to assure Mendoza his case would be reconsidered according to merit or even have Mendoza fetched to the Palace to have a personal audience with the President. He had ten hours and more to do that.
As reported (Inquirer.net, August 25), Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez had sent Mendoza a letter promising to review his case. Timely, decisive action of the President could have assured Mendoza the Ombudsman’s promise would be done – had he really received the letter.
With Mendoza and eight foreign tourists dead, what PNoy could have done is now could have been. Instead of boosting tourism, his lack of decisiveness dealt it with a fatal blow. It should not be a surprise if the Philippines is now blacklisted as tourist destination not only in Hongkong and China but in many other countries. It will take time for the Tourism Department to rebuild the blood-spattered image of Philippine tourism.
One: The accounts of two survivors, Bang Lu Min and Mrs. Leung, indicated that police bullets felled some hostages contradicting the police claim that the only shot they fired was that of the sniper which killed Mendoza.
Mr. Ban Lu Min wrote that when the tear gas canister was hurled into the bus, “Some ran in front of the bus but Mister Mendoza warned them of stray bullets. It was too late. One was hit on the head, the other was hit on the shoulders. Bullets were flying. It’s like the authorities thought we were all dead.”
Both he and Mrs. Leung believed Mendoza had no intention to kill the hostages. Timely intervention with tact and persuasion could have pacified him and prevented the bloody end of the crisis.
Two: Despite the blow-by-blow media coverage, Malacañang did not see the unraveling crisis; or, if it did, it dismissed it. The explanations for its inaction were pathetic.
More crises will come President Aquino’s way in his six-year term. Will he act with more decisiveness than what he showed in this first crisis – the test he flunked – within his first 100 days in office? Words can electrify the nation; but in the end, what matters most are deeds.
Close to the hearts of Mindanawoms: With his lack of decisiveness sorely demonstrated in the August 24 hostage crisis [even if deftly deflected by Malacañang], can he “solve the Bangsamoro problem” before he steps down on June 30, 2016?
A foil to remember: President Ramon Magsaysay solved through tack and decisiveness the Hukbalahap Problem in Central Luzon. In fact, he used then young reporter Benigno Aquino Jr. [unforeseen martyr of freedom, husband of a president and father of their son-president], to reunite Huk Supremo Luis Taruc with the government.
(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)