Hong Kong has finally made good on their threat to impose economic sanctions on the Philippines and cancel the visa-free access for Filipinos three years after the deaths of eight Hong Kong nationals touring the Philippines back in 2010.
Big deal, right? Judging by the number of Filipinos who reacted with outrage over the news, of course it is a big deal. A lot think that Hong Kong is resorting to bullying tactics. Some are even saying that the sanctions could be Mainland China’s brainchild. Never mind that Philippine President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino’s lack of diplomatic skills is part of the reason the Philippines has a tense relationship with a few of our South East Asian neighbors, not just Hong Kong. The economic sanctions are a real achievement under BS Aquino’s government.
There are Filipinos who strongly support the notion that the whole country should not be punished for the act of one homicidal maniac. But is it really just the fault of one man? Not according to the official reports conducted by the Incident Investigation and Review Committee (IIRC).
Let us cut to the chase. The Philippine government is currently in no position to play games when it comes to dealing with any of its ASEAN neighbors especially since the Philippines is still very much dependent on Filipino overseas foreign workers to sustain its economy. After all, Hong Kong is temporary home to some 100,000 Filipino domestic helpers and is still one of the favorite holiday and shopping destinations of the Filipino people not just for its proximity and affordability but also for its sights and sounds. If Filipinos do not want to be “bullied”, they should not put themselves in a position where the other party has the upper hand.
Unfortunately, the patience of lawmakers on the island on China’s south coast have finally run out after waiting for three years for a formal apology from the Philippine government. Hong Kong lawmakers must have thought that their issuance of a top-level black travel alert for the Philippines was not enough to compel the Philippine President to consider admitting the country’s shortfall during the botched hostage rescue operations. Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada’s apology was apparently also not enough to pacify the angry Hong Kong lawmakers and particularly the family of the victims.
Some people do find it strange that BS Aquino is not willing to accept that the country’s obligation to protect foreign nationals in Philippine territory has failed. Likewise, he is not willing to accept that the hostage crisis was bungled due to a combination of the incompetence and lack of coordination among various government agencies.
The members of the Manila SWAT team who complained about not being able to see inside the bus to assess the situation because they did not even have flashlights, were “not only ill equipped but they were not trained in different kinds of situations”:
There was lack of equipment on the part of Manila SWAT to handle the situation. Although they had their basic weapons such as their armor vest (the effectiveness [of which] are already in deep question), their rifles, pistols and Kevlar helmets but still by standards, these are not adequate to address the hostage crisis situation. It is very evident that they were not even carrying with them flashlights but all of the time they were reporting and complaining that the interior of the bus was dark. The lack of equipment already put the breaching operation into a compromise. The element of surprise was gone that resulted into a stall that lasted for sometime thereby endangering lives. The doubt regarding the effectiveness of their armor vest contributed to the apprehension of the SWAT members to rush inside the bus during the assault.
The Manila SWAT was not only ill equipped but they were not trained in different kinds of situations. In fact they had to rehearse on the very day of the hostage situation. The trainings of the Manila SWAT as provided by the Manila Police District are not updated and simulated operations were conducted, if ever conducted, was a long time ago. They don’t even know the serial numbers of their guns at an instant query. They train on their own personal account. Skill acquired through trainings diminishes after some time and needs to be constantly updated.
The situation was made worse by the narcissism and arrogance of some members of the mainstream media. Like I said before, members of the media should also be held liable for the deaths of the Hong Kong tourists because their continued coverage of the hostage taker’s brother Gregorio Mendoza while in police custody triggered Rolando’s attack on the tourists inside the bus. It seems the journalists wanted their 15 minutes of fame judging from the way reporter Erwin Tulfo wriggled his way inside the cordoned area with a cameraman in tow even when hostage taker Mendoza specifically asked for a female reporter and, more importantly, even when he wasn’t supposed to be there. Even radio reporter Michael Rogas of Radio Mo Network (RMN) took it upon himself to occupy the only line of communication available to the hostage taker, Mendoza’s cell phone, despite him not being an official hostage negotiator.
Filipinos who are crying foul over Hong Kong’s economic sanctions on the Philippines should read the IIRC report. It is easily accessible through the Internet even by the relatives of the eight Hong Kong tourist and Hong Kong lawmakers who have the power to make life for Filipinos who want to work and visit Hong Kong very difficult. The report highlighted the insensitivity and negligence on the part of then Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim. Here are some excerpts:
Mayor Alfredo Lim
As Chairman of the local CMC which exercised jurisdiction over the crisis incident, Mayor Lim failed to properly activate the CMC and render it fully functional to respond to the crisis as required under existing protocol. Based on existing guidelines, the CMC is charged with the responsibility “to take decisive action in emergency situations” and to integrate and orchestrate “government, military/ police and public efforts towards the prevention and control of (the) crisis incident” (4.3.1, 4.3.3, Crisis Management Manual).
Mayor Lim failed to observe the appropriate degree of attention required by the gravity and highly-volatile nature of the crisis, involving the hostage-taking of 21 foreign nationals, 3 Filipinos and one local Chinese by a fully-armed and distressed police officer, evincing gross failure to accord due importance to his role and responsibilities as head of the CMC in addressing the crisis.
As head of the CMC, Mayor Lim’s conduct bespeaks of a weak, if not anemic, response to the hostage-taking crisis, unmindful of its gravity and the urgency of its resolution as every moment of delay in ending the crisis increases the risk to the safety of the hostages, mostly foreign nationals, and the damage to the image of the country before the international community.
As such, Mayor Lim’s subsequent orders to handcuff, arrest and forcibly take SPO2 Gregorio Mendoza to “Tondo” was completely unjustified, improper, reckless and contrary to established protocols in negotiations. At that time, Mayor Lim was fully aware that the situation in the bus was turning extremely volatile in light of Mendoza`s outright rejection of the Ombudsman letter and his hostile action in firing his gun to express his frustrations with the negotiators whom he accused of having fooled him.
It was the height of irresponsibility for the Chairman of the CMC to abandon the command post and take along with him the ground commander to Emerald Restaurant on the lame justification that he was hungry and nothing was happening yet (“wala pang nangyayari”). At that time, the protracted 8-hour negotiation had already collapsed after the hostage-taker rejected the Ombudsman letter and resorted to a hostile action by firing his gun, indicating a highly-agitated mental state and obviously warranting close attention and immediate measures to prevent further deterioration of the situation.
The IIRC report also highlighted the incompetence and lack of urgency on the part of then Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Rico Puno:
Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Rico Puno
It is the conclusion of the Committee that, the improper assumption by Usec. Puno of the functions of the Secretary of DILG as the chairman of the National Crisis Committee, in the light of his admitted lack of training and experience, may have compromised the readiness of the national CMC to take over the responsibility when it became apparent that the local CMC could not properly handle the hostage situation. That readiness could have been the immediate answer to the worsening situation. Puno’s failure to call upon the other members of the national CMC to be on standby reflects this lack of capacity. While he may have good intentions, rules must still be followed, and the organizational structure of the national CMC must be maintained.
It is worth mentioning that Lim who is a friend of the Aquino family and Puno who is a close friend of BS Aquino, both belong to the President’s political party. Everyone should know by now how protective the President is of his friends and allies. No wonder Hong Kong’s request that officials who were negligent during the hostage crisis be made accountable will simply be ignored and dismissed. It should come as no surprise then why President BS Aquino refuses to apologize.
Filipinos who want to support the President’s stand on this issue should accept Hong Kong’s sanctions. They should avoid crying foul and acting like losers by speculating about China’s hand in Hong Kong’s decision. It’s an entirely separate issue from the ongoing standoff over the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal. They should be careful about further angering the Chinese people with baseless accusations that could make them add further economic sanctions.
[Photo of Alfredo Lim with Noynoy courtesy GMA News.]
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