Last year, we had the Maguindanao Massacre, where the Ampatuan family allegedly murdered around 60 people, mostly from the Mangudadutu clan in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao Province. The legal part of that massacre is still unresolved, but now we have another massacre to talk about, the Manila Massacre. I’m talking about last week’s hostage situation in Manila where a bus load of tourists were taken hostage, and many ended up dead by the time that the whole scenario was played out.
Oh, people are not calling this the Manila Massacre, that’s my name for it. I mean why not, I think it’s fitting.
I am sure that almost all readers of this article know what happened, but in case you do not, I’ll make a quick recap of what happened. Basically, last Monday, August 23, a former Philippine National Police (PNP) officer, Rolando Mendoza, took a bus load of people hostage. He forced the bus driver to park the bus at the Quirino Grandstand, basically in an empty parking lot. He held the hostages for the better part of the day, something like 11 hours or so in all. Over the course of the day, some hostages (mostly Filipinos and Children) were released. Almost all of the remaining hostages in the bus were Chinese citizens from Hong Kong, people who were vacationing here in the Philippines. When all was finished, almost all of these Chinese were dead.
Firstly, let me say that bad things like this happen in any country, not only in the Philippines. In fact, I think that the may be even a little less common in the Philippines than some other places. However, that said, the situation was handled very ineptly by the Philippine Government. Hey, Governments, Police Departments and everybody else makes mistakes, and nothing can be done to bring those tourists back to life now. However, something can be done to stop a situation like this from happening again. Training is the biggest thing.
The BBC has a webpage that is an interview with Charles Shoebridge, who is a security analyst who used to work with Scotland Yard on incidents like this hostage situation. Shoebridge points out ten mistakes that he feels were made and could have caused the situation to turn out differently than it did. I won’t go into the mistakes here, I will let you read that article if you are so inclined.
I do want to talk, though, about some things that I have seen in the aftermath of the massacre, which I think the Philippines should seriously consider.
Firstly, there is a mad dash to find somebody to place the blame on. I mean, they want to find a single individual to blame, and it seems that then everything will be better. Frankly, in my opinion, this is not about a single person making a mistake. It’s a systemic problem. It is a lack of training. It is a lack of adequate equipment. It is most seriously a lack of adequate procedures in place. I mean, either there was no set of policies in place of what steps should be taken to deal with such a situation, or if such policies are in place, they are either inadequate, or they were not followed. This needs to be seriously addressed. In the past, during my years of living in the Philippines, there have been many times when people from other countries have come and offered training to the Philippine forces (Army and Police). I know of many instances where the USA has offered such assistance, and I also know of times when Australia has made such offers. I feel certain that other countries have offered such training as well. In every instance I can remember, many Filipinos get defensive and say that such training is not needed, and they already know what they are doing. A very nationalistic uproar. Such training is needed badly. I am not saying that Filipinos are not good, or other Nationalities are better people, or smarter than Filipinos are. I don’t believe that at all, but what I do believe is that in the area of such Police and Army operations, training would be beneficial.
The most troublesome problem that I see, and I have not seen this mentioned anywhere else, is that the biggest uproar in the Philippines is about how tourism will be impacted. There has been a lot of discussion about how the Philippines needs to show people in the rest of the world that this is an isolated incident and that the country is safe. I heard these comments just 12 hours or less after the incident happened. My God! How about at least waiting until the bodies of the dead are cold before worrying about tourism dollars. Look, yes, tourism will be impacted negatively due to what happened, but let’s mourn for the dead before we address that. It really troubles me deeply when the financial impact is the first thing that comes to mind while blood is still dripping from the bus at Quirino Grandstand. How about some respect for the dead and their families, some serious offers of condolences. I think in a month or so the Philippines can begin analyzing the impact on tourism.
One of the more serious blunders that I saw, in terms of further offending the families of the dead was that when it came time for the body of Mendoza to be put in his coffin, his coffin was draped with a Philippine Flag! When the Chinese saw this, they immediately lodged a protest with the Philippine Government, and rightly so. I mean, when a coffin is draped with a flag, it is generally a sign that the dead is being honored as a hero of his country. Mendoza was a former PNP Officer, but it would seem that his action of killing these hostages would eliminate any honor that he might have had from his police service. And, oh, do you know why he was no longer a Police Officer? He was fired due to corruption. Mendoza took hostages in an effort to get his job back, and he loudly protested that he was not guilty of such corruption charges. However, the act of hostage taking alone is enough to erase any honor that he deserved (or didn’t).
Frankly, this whole hostage situation was a real black eye for the Philippines. My fear is that the way it is being handled in the aftermath is going to blacken the other eye, which is not necessary.