The Mendoza bus hostage massacre: Remembering the victims of a preventable tragedy

Ill-equipped, ill-trained, ill-prepared, and ill-thought-out. These are words that can easily describe anything to do with the Philippines across the board — from its politicians, to its law-enforcement officers, to its Media, and ultimately to the very people they serve (and are consequently reflections of). The propensity to fail consistently is ingrained into the very fibres that make up the very fabric of Philippine society. There is no stepping any further back from that simple reality.

A British security analyst with experience working in counter-terrorism spelt out no less than ten things that the Philippine police got wrong in the handling of the 23rd August 2010 bus siege that left eight Hong Kong tourists dead.

In the following, I quote the items verbatim from the report and snippets from what the analyst — Charles Shoebridge — had to say about the assault force.

1. Determination – “[the police] 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”

2. Lack of equipment – “They almost looked like a group of vandals”

3. Lost opportunity to disarm the gunman – “The negotiators were so close to [Mendoza], and he had his weapon hanging down by his side. He could have been disabled without having to kill him”

4. Lost opportunity to shoot the gunman – “there were occasions when the gunman was standing alone, during the course of the day, and could have been shot by a sharpshooter”

5. Satisfying the gunman’s demands – “[…] 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.”

6. Televised proceedings – “police should always consider putting a barrier or screen around the area, to shield the scene from the cameras and keep the hostage taker in the dark”

8. Safeguarding the public – “it was clear there was little command and control of the public on the ground”

9. Using the gunman’s brother to negotiate – “Relatives and close friends can be a double-edged sword”

10. Insufficient training – “The detachment involved in Monday’s incident clearly was not […] well trained in the necessary tactics”

Most of these ten things pointed out are quite self-evident. Indeed, the level of incompetence exhibited on that tragic day was such that, from what I’ve seen in the small cross-section of articles and blogs I’ve scanned over the last hour or two, even non-experts in armed assault tactics have been able to cite them.

The really astounding thing is how the sheer incompetence of the assault was so visibly played out in front of a TV — and YouTube — audience. We have to thank the “heroics” of the Philippine Media for that. In their pursuit for lucrative scoops under the banner of their self-appointed role of “guardians of truth and freedom”, the Media played a pivotal role not only in triggering the fatal descent into chaos of Mendoza’s hostage drama but also provided the world with a front-row look into the banal ineptness that has come to be associated (now even more indelibly) with the word “Filipino”.

Take a look at those ten items cited above by Shoebridge again and the snippets out of the report I quoted associated with each.

These ten things could just as easily describe everything that is wrong with Philippine society overall.

Sad indeed.

Below is a photo originally posted by a certain Dan 周董 on his Facebook profile. You can access the photo at its original location in this Facebook album. It shows what looks like a gang of college students giddily posing for photos in front of the wreckage of the bus that was the scene of the recent siege that claimed the lives of eight Hong Kong tourists.

It is illustrative of the sort of mentality that pervades in Filipino society — a society described by an admired Filipino economist, based in New York as possessing a “weird culture”. She further observes how we often exhibit…

[…] our jocular regard for our national problems, great crimes, villainous scams and calamities. Note that Filipinos are notorious for making fun, creating a joke of their misfortunes. The cellulars are full of them now. In other countries inhabited by serious and sensitive people, they mount crusades, indignation rallies or nationwide relief campaigns to meet such crises. They would weep or stomp their feet, or explode in anger, or demand punishment for the criminals or misfits. Here we tend to laugh at scams, crimes and natural calamities, as if they are part of the usual TV noon comedy shows, the Pinoy’s daily diet.

It’s very hard to be intellectual if you aren’t serious. And so far the clear evidence is that we are not a serious people. Worse, we don’t like to think.

Perhaps this inability to hunker down, be serious, and think is what predisposes Filipinos to the banal incompetence that so often showcases itself for all the world to see.

And yet Filipinos have always prided themselves in being a “resilient” people. So resilient, in fact, that even the worst disasters and tragedies couldn’t wipe our silly smiles off our faces. Smiling is so ingrained in our character as a people that I dare say President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III couldn’t really be blamed for the reflexive smile plastered on his face as he delivered his official statement on the 23rd August hostage crisis. He is Filipino after all. And that is what Filipinos do — smile.

Botched SWAT operations are nothing new in a country where mediocrity is more the rule than the exception. As Benjamin Pimentel mentioned in his kwento kwnto, back in the late 70’s and early 80’s the Philippine police’s SWAT team was even then already known as the “Special Weapons ‘Alang Tactics” team (‘alang being a Tagalog contraction of the word “no”). Pimentel refers to a bank robbery siege in Cubao back then that he — surprise, surprise — described as a “bizarre police operation”…

The cops didn’t seem to know what to do.

They made sure to take their pa-pogi (look-good) combat poses in front of the TV cameras, holding their M-16 rifles a la Steve Forrest — even bystanders could be seen smiling, waiting for them to make their move and for the confrontation to escalate.

What is really noteworthy in the above account of a similar incident 30 years ago (aside from the already well-established incompetence of the Philippine police) are two disturbingly familiar observations — (1) cops striking a pose and (2) smiling bloodthirsty bystanders.

Fast forward to today in the Year 2010, the words of eminent Inquirer.net columnist Conrado de Quiros may as well have been uttered back in that 1970’s Cubao bank robbery siege…

What the hell kind of people are we?“;

…as he described the mob at the scene of the present-day tourist bus tragedy…

That was the one that surged toward the door of the bus as bodies were being lifted out, that minded being pushed aside by the cops while they gaped, gawked and took pictures with their cellphones. That was the one that rushed there, surged there, and stood there unmindful of the rain, unmindful of the emergency, unmindful of the dead, staring at the blood and gore without compassion or commiseration, staring at the blood and gore only with curiosity.

What kind of a people are we? We are the bunch of people who live in a place where asia wears a smile as the old Philippine tourism slogan goes.

President Noynoy Aquino — and his smile — merely reflect the people he, just a few months ago, giddily put his hand up to lead.

To highlight the profound nature of the change we need to consider, it may be worth revisiting the impressive turnaround of South Korea’s flag carrier Korean Airlines. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, Korean Airlines (KAL) had become a case study of deadly dysfunction. Many innocent passengers had died in air disasters involving KAL aircraft as a result of appalling cases of human error — deadly lapses in judgement, failures in communication among cabin crew personnel, and a lack of commitment to international standards.

In my December 2009 article Lots of action underpinned by very little thinking, I cited an insightful account of the plight of KAL written by Malcolm Gladwell in his excellent book Outliers which I summarised as follows…

Another case study explored extensively in Outliers involves the appalling safety record of Korean Airlines (KAL) in the 1980’s and 90’s. Among a number of other incidents, there was one KAL flight that was accidentally shot down by Soviet fighters planes after unintentionally straying into hostile airspace and another one that crashed as it attempted to land in Guam.

The approach taken to rectify the deep problems that beset KAL and the solutions identified are eye-openers, specifically because they could just as easily be potentially applicable to the systemic issues in Philippine Government, the police, and the Media; all of which revealed themselves to the world in living colour during the Mendoza hostage crisis…

An extensive study to analyse safety and operational practices was mounted and the solutions implemented based on these have since yielded promising results. One of the key findings involved how KAL’s aircraft crew members communicated with one another in the cockpit. The study revealed that a particular cultural trait of Koreans — extreme deference to authority — made it a monumental challenge for co-pilots and flight engineers to speak out assertively whenever they identified potential problems or disagreed with the captain’s decisions. It did not help the Koreans too that English happens to be the lingua franca of the global aviation community and air traffic controllers in airports all over the world spoke a particularly assertive flavour of it. Recognising all this, KAL designed its new training programs around ingraining new behaviours that mitigated the effects of Korean cultural traits on cockpit crews’ behaviours. English language training was also significantly stepped up to boost crew members’ proficiency and make them more competent communicators in-step with the larger aviation community.

The main underpinning feature in the approach taken by the Koreans to investigating the issue, identifying problems, and developing solutions was a willingness to examine the very fundamental traits of their own cultural character.

It is important that Philippine investigators see the Mendoza hostage incident as the outcome of a system of dysfunctional elements that profoundly infect Philippine society over a macro scale like a malignant cancer.

Perhaps it is, as far as the internal perceptions of most islanders go, the sad reality that Filipinos will simply retreat from the challenge to step up to the opportunity for deep change that presents itself to us today — retreat back within the comfy walls of delusion that we built around our character as a people. Indeed, as we find ourselves painted by this hostage tragedy into an ever-shrinking corner in the scheme of global stature, we find ourselves succumbing yet again to the opium of the comfy notions of (1) our hallowed place on the planet as the sole “Catholic” country in the region, (2) our entitlement to concessions as victims of the historical “evils” of imperialism and despotism, and (3) the notion that a prosperous and dignified future lies out there, mandated by one deity or another on the basis of our self-described prayerfulness to them.

Quite obvious to most but nonetheless counterintuitive to the addicted: like most narcotics, these warm and fuzzy notions — these self-delusions — succeed mightily at soothing our internality by locking out the more objective externality of what is real.

Emma-Kate Symons in an article published on The Australian used a very familiar and elegant metaphor (my boldface for emphasis) in response to the flurry of quaint justifications of our collective failure as a society coming from Mainstream Media and Establishment Bloggers:

Such hogwash, redolent of familiar fatalistic, dolourist distortions of Catholic notions of sin and personal responsibility, is once again allowing a societal head-in-the-sand mentality to prevail in a nation that thinks saying sorry many times should be enough.

To paraphrase:

The more we bury our heads in the sand like the proverbial ostrich, the more our asses stick out high in the air.

More importantly, such an observation coming from a foreign newspaper as The Australian represents the forces of our externality banging at our gates as we cower behind the internality we created within those primitivist walls we built around our national character.

The guardians of these gates are influential. And they are all singing from the same hymn book. Symons points out a few of them in her Australian piece:

William Esposo who, in a PhilStar blurb batted the ball of shame back onto the Chinese court…

China should be the last to posture as if they hold a candle to us when it comes to preventing tragedies”, and recalling the 2005 murder of Philippines businessman Emmanuel Madrigal and his daughter by an axe-wielding madman in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

“Did a Chinese official apologise to the Madrigal family, The Philippines government or the Filipino people for their failure to protect Filipino tourists in one of the most visited sites in their capital? Where, then, do they get the gall and the temerity to disrespect us and our President due to a similar incident?

…which, by the way, is a spectacular specimen of moronic thinking that I clarified here.

The words of The Editor of that venerable Aquinoist newsletter, the Inquirer.net, was not spared from Symons’s eviscerating critique on the nature of Filipino-style thinking. She highlighted the following revealing excerpt from that 1st of September 2010 piece

We are in solidarity with the women and men who offer prayers . . . but we see no point in prostrating ourselves further, or in insulting The Philippines government as though in a continuing kowtow. We will not be forced into a sackcloth-and-ashes pose.

… I might add that, last I heard, the right thing to do is to remain prostrated in humble posture and work quietly towards achieving results instead of grandstanding about intentions.

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Post Author: benign0

benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.

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51 Comments on "The Mendoza bus hostage massacre: Remembering the victims of a preventable tragedy"

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Vincenzo B. Arellano
Guest

NO DOUBT. Si Gloria ang may kasalanan nito. Kakaupo lang ni PNoy noong mangyari ito. Minana lang ng admin niya ang mga walang kwentang parak.

Trosp
Guest

Hindi naman kaya si W Bush o kaya si Sarah Palin?

Vincenzo B. Arellano
Guest

Oi bo bo nasa Pilipinas tayo ogok

Parallax
Guest

tama si vincenzo, trosp. nasa pilipinas tayo. si paris hilton ang may kasalanan nyan. nandito sya eh. kahit utak-butiki, genius talaga si vincenzo. mmmmmwahhh!

Trosp
Guest

Ang babaw na nga yung sample ko di pa rin na gets.

Ano pa kaya ang kayang intindihin nito?

Grimwald
Member

Don’t disrespect Sarah Pailin man…

She’s a real hottie…

She’s hotter than Kris Aquino, that’s for sure!

<3 <3 <3

domo
Guest

Lumabas na naman ang pagkagunggong mo yellow nazi.

Daido Katsumi
Guest

Another moronic statement, courtesy of Vincezo Arellano. 😛

BTW, Arroyo used the SAF against the Abu Sayaff. Why can’t Noynoy use them? And… unlike Gloria, Noynoy is APATHETIC on the situation and smiles like a sadist. 😛

Vincenzo B. Arellano
Guest

Ang talinO talaga, may nangyari ba sa Abu Sayyaf dahil diyan sa SAF? Wala! Nandyan pa rin sila. Sikat kasi si Gloria SAFa6laki ng utang ng NFA, SAFangungurakot, SAFa6gastos ng malaki sa restaurant, SAFa6sisinungaling at SAFa6papahirap pa lalo sa Pilipinas.

domo
Guest

See that’s you that’s how retarded you are. You are a tool. You really can’t accept defeat because you are a fanboy.

kata
Guest
I watched History channel. P-Noy ordered for the SAF to do the work. In turn, DILG gave the said order. The question until now is why did Magtibay & Manila Police sent the Manila SWAT? Another still unanswered question is did someone tell Mendoza to switch on the TV during the “arrest” of his brother? It seems that he turned it on while talking to Tulfo on his cellphone. Why did Tulfo hog the cellphone all to himself when he knew that lives are at stake? Weren’t he smart enough that was the line of communication between Mendoza & the… Read more »
Joe makarios
Guest

Such withn ur selves

Lightzout
Guest

“Ang talinO talaga, may nangyari ba sa Abu Sayyaf dahil diyan sa SAF?”

So expect mo yung naging presidente si Noynoy, lahat ng problema mawala? Kahit Abu Sayyaf mag surrender kaagad?

Hindi ganyan ang mundo tol, gusto mo mawala yung problema, kaw na mismo maghanap ng solusyon, wag mo asahan pa gobyerno o hintayin mo pa sila gumalaw. La sila paki alam sa iyo kundi pera lang, pera na galing sa tax binabayad mo kada buwan.

Vincenzo B. Arellano
Guest

Yup naman. Tignan mo ginagawa ni PNoy, siya na mismo nakikipag peace talks. Unlike ung isa dyan,grabe pa rin SAFagpapangap na maysakit.

waaaw
Guest

eeeew!! what the heck

Vincenzo B. Arellano
Guest

Ikaw ang retarded! D mO matangGap na si Gloria ay SAF!

Daido Katsumi
Guest

You fail again, zombie. 😛

PNoy had the peace talks with the MILF. Why do you want to make peace talks with the Abu Sayyaf which are TERRORISTS?!

You’re just trolling, man. =)

Parallax
Guest

@everyone: don’t feed the troll.

just trying to save you time, guys.

Vincenzo B. Arellano
Guest

Parallax, stop beinh a douchebag

Daido Katsumi
Guest

Blaming Gloria on all the problems in the Philippines makes you more of a douchebag. That’s the agony of denial.

It’s easy to blame Arroyo since she’s corrupt while we Filipinos, as citizens, are corrupt.

GMA as the SAF? Cool story, bro. Iyan ang napapala sa mga taong mahihilig sa tsismis & conspiracies. Typical stupid Pinoy. You don’t even have evidence either. You’re a retarded troll.

Parallax
Guest

but you’re my favorite douche, vincenzo!

you fill me, you know?

you

fill

me


oh what will i do without you, my dear favorite douche?

domo
Guest

Look at your precious president now cowardly not giving an apology to the victims in today’s 1st anniversary and now the Hong Kong people are mad at us again you buffoon.

Hyden Toro
Guest

It’s just the worst incompetence, that I’ve ever seen in dealing with a Hostage Situation. A President nowhere to be seen…then, the Mayor of Manila, feasting in a nearby Restaurant…while the hostage-taker was murdering the hostage-tourists…
It will go in our history, as the worst way in dealing with a hostage situation…

ici
Guest
everything that happened in the mendoza bus hostage massacre is truly a reflection in everything that reeks in our society from the government to the law enforcers to the media and to the fiesta-minded people. re: the prez’ winning smile that outraged the HK populace…he smiles daw when he is nervous or upset. wtf?!! the only people i can think of who do this are in serious need of therapy. oh well, i guess that is why his newsletter is always showing pictures of him being so serious and presidential-like. naks! i watched the docu in history channel, and i… Read more »
purpleblue
Guest

One thing I have also noticed with the history channel docu that I don’t think was mentioned in the local media was the lack of coordination between the medical centers and hospitals that were to accommodate the surviving victims. The docu stated that some victims were even turned away by the hospitals, further endangering the lives of the HK nationals by denying them immediate treatment.

yikes. I’d rather stay healthy than risk being brought to an emergency room HERE.

1DC
Guest

Just curious, have our local enforcers made any effort to correct this embarrassing display of incompetence? And I do mean some serious training, not just some photo ops… Or should we just wait for the next hostage taking and find out? Aside from smiling, praying is also one of the things pinoys do best. If the enforcers failed to (plan A): polish up on their skills then, man, (plan B): they better start praying…

Lightzout
Guest

Well, after one year since that tragedy, I’ll go with Plan B.

1DC
Guest

You’re not a police man, are you Lightz?

Lightzout
Guest

Wish I was a Policeman so I could set a correct example but with the current stupidity messing around the police ranks, not joining.

IMO, I think we need to start a new a group, a rival to the police, something that really does things instead of repeating the same mistakes the current police are doing. Sure, it may be unrecognized by the government but when people are backing it up, sooner or later the government will have to acknowledge this. Just my two pesos.

Daido Katsumi
Guest

Vincenzo Arellano is nothing more than a Yellow Zombie.

Ang sarap maging BOBO, right? Let’s treat him as a social experiment, shall we?

1DC
Guest

What do you have in mind, Daido?

1DC
Guest

Oh wait, for starters I’ll be the pea shooter!

Daido Katsumi
Guest

Me? I’ll just prepare my E Gaia Memory to transform into ETERNAL to kick him in the face because Yellow Zombies love to…

ENJOY HELL.

*Daido thumbs down*

Sawakas
Guest

I’ve seen the “Manila Hostage Crisis” version ng History Channel and all points to Mayor Lim and the ground commander Magtibay. The SAF supposed to be the one to take down the hostage taker but somehow somebody give the go ahead to use MPD’s SWAT … incompetence defines the “Manila Hostage Crisis”

1DC
Guest
Couldn’t agree with you more. Enforcers don’t seem to realize that there’s more to it than just wearing that uniform to intimidate, hustle kundoktors for a free bus ride, demand respect, or simply go pa-pogi. I even suspect they got enlisted for the wrongs reasons: security of tenure, good enough pay, the authority to carry a gun and the power this yields. Ah, the perks of wearing that uniform… But, competency-wise, these guys should be able to live up to the expectations of everyone, especially in upholding order, safety and justice. More than a year ago, their abilities were put… Read more »
Dr. Noh
Guest

I for one am thoroughly disgusted by how the Philippine officials are handling the aftermath.

http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=718959&publicationSubCategoryId=63

– no apology yet!
– no one even wants to talk to the families of the victims, even Mayor Lim is in hiding
– a lot of blaming and counter-blaming, throwing every non-sequitir including the kitchen-sink (in the form of the Spratley issue and the pinoy drug mules subjected to capital punishment)
– the only concrete show of remorse was to offer “prayers” and hold a catholic mass to commemorate the tragedy (which honestly is pointless as the victim’s kin aren’t probably even christian to begin with)

kata
Guest
I think that the name Benigno does not suit you for you seem to trample on Ninoy’s heroism and the good in the Filipino people. Are you truly a Filipino? Getting real means not only the ugly stuff but also the good ones. Getting real means showing the facts & not shoving one’s opinions as facts. Nevertheless, your article can serve as a “hoy!” to those who forget to be sensitive about the feelings of others & to those genuine ill-intentioned, incompetents & to those engaged in selfish politicking. There are points that should be considered for improvement of the… Read more »
Lightzout
Guest

There’s good in the Filipinos, true, but it’s buried deep in lies, stupidity and the inability to face the truth when it’s shown to them. Really, just because his name is Benigno (or an alias he uses) and starts writing articles that isn’t Pinoy friendly results in ruining the image of our ‘hero’ Ninoy? That’s some logical reasoning there my friend.

Daido Katsumi
Guest

Like my friend said, all of the anti-corruption talk and the pointless GMA witch-hunting is ridiculous.

I’m laughing at your sorry ass right now. That’s because you’re an Aquino worshiper. Yes, you love stupidity. 😛

Fact: It’s easy to say that GMA is corrupt while hard to say that we Filipinos are corrupt.

kladionica
Guest

I don?t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this publish was good. I don’t know who you might be however certainly you are going to a famous blogger if you are not already 😉 Cheers!

trackback

[…] in the region is China. Yes, we are talking about China, that very country PNoy lost face with when he bungled the Mendoza hostage situation. He crossed a government whose people do not forget history and do not forgive incompetence easily. […]

trackback

[…] problem with PNoy’s plea for more positive news is that it is misleading. How can you not report a preventable incident where eight tourists died for instance? Even if the local media sweeps it under the rug, the international media will still […]

Dirch
Guest

For me, this day, we remember the stupidity, incompetence, corruption, and red tape bull$#|+ of the Philippine police force that handled this situation.

trackback

[…] occurred during the August 26 Luneta Rally (I wonder how many of them went on the spot where the Bus Hostage Crisis happened) , was the reported booing of former Chief Justice Renato Corona when he appeared at the […]

arteva
Guest
As usual untrained people can easily make fingerpointing, comments and critiques because they don’t have ideas on what to do in a situation such as the Luneta Seige. But from the point of view of an experienced and trained crisis manager, negotiator and armed and tactical intervention operative, the blunder in this particular catastrophic event can be pinpointed to the government unit tasked to handle situations such as this! Firstly, there’s a need to answer the following questions ; do we have a Manual dealing with all types of crises? Do LGUs or concerned govt units have Contingency Plans dealing… Read more »
arteva
Guest

There are protocols to be followed in situations such as this.First, let trained people handle the situation ( Crisis Mgr, Negotiator and Tactical Commander,which i assumed we have), politicians should be out of the picture unless they are also trained. The thing is, in most cases if not all, there are some politicians who wanted to make a scene just to be seen by the public for obvious reasons…

Jetlag807
Guest
Well “arteva”, I’m a “trained” person in the subject. Matter-of-fact-, one might consider it my profession. You can sit there and make (or think up) excuses until the cows come home. As for me, and EVERYONE of the REAL experts I know and have had the honor to work with, the Manila Police District SWAT Team failed miserably and completely! I’m not sure what planet you live on but in the real world (outside of the Philippines) Operators train until they get it right and keep training so they can’t get it wrong! There is NO excuse for the stupidity… Read more »
arteva
Guest

So, where was Shoebridge when civil disturbance and looting struck England some year ago? How come it took them more than a week to quell and resolve that problem? He should have taught well their gov’t officials and crises managers!!!

Johnny Derp
Guest

4 years later and we’re laughing our asses off at the yellow troll’s past statements that his president has reduced the problems of this country when in fact, the president has singlehandedly made things much much worse.

hthdhgkjy
Guest
“The really astounding thing is how the sheer incompetence of the assault was so visibly played out in front of a TV — and YouTube — audience. We have to thank the “heroics” of the Philippine Media for that. In their pursuit for lucrative scoops under the banner of their self-appointed role of “guardians of truth and freedom”, the Media played a pivotal role not only in triggering the fatal descent into chaos of Mendoza’s hostage drama but also provided the world with a front-row look into the banal ineptness that has come to be associated (now even more indelibly)… Read more »