Luneta bloodbath and a damaged institution

 

Armed with an M-16 assault rifle, a 9mm pistol and two hand grenades, dismissed senior inspector (captain) Rolando Mendoza of the Philippine National Police (PNP) hijacked a tourist bus packed with 21 Hong Kong tourists and 4 Filipinos and demanded his reinstatement to the police force.  The 11-hour hostage drama in front of the Quirino Grandstand in Luneta (Manila’s Rizal Park) ended in a bloodbath on live TV with the police storming the bus and killing Mendoza after he had fired at the tourists, killing 8 of them and wounding 8 others.  The whole nation and the world watched in horror and disbelief as the SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams from Manila’s Finest (?!) fumbled and mishandled the hostage crisis that ended in a carnage.

The following morning Hong Kong and China newspapers screamed with the following headlines:  “The Philippines is one of the most chaotic countries in Southeast Asia”, “Filipino police incompetent” and “Hong Kong protesters strongly condemns the Philippine government for being careless about human life”.

 

For its part, the PNP was quick to blame the live media coverage of the police preparations for and the subsequent assault on the bus, which were monitored by Mendoza through a television inside the bus, for causing him to go berserk and fire indiscriminately at his hostages.  Instead of owning responsibility for the bungled rescue attempt and conducting a detailed investigation of the incident, the PNP chose to point the blame on media.  In the first place, why does a dismissed police officer, especially one sacked for extortion, have an M-16 assault rifle, a pistol and two hand grenades?

Of course radio and TV reporters would broadcast a “blow by blow” account of the event because they were allowed to do so.  It was the duty of the police to drive them away and seal off the scene of the armed standoff, but they either forgot or failed to do so.

Mendoza claimed that he was unjustly removed from the police service by the Ombudsman.  The Ombudsman claimed otherwise, explaining that Mendoza and four other Manila policemen were dismissed from the service after they were found guilty of extortion and forcing a young hotel chef to swallow shabu in April 2008.  Whether or not his dismissal from the police service is unjust, his way of getting redress could never be justified.

 

The tragic event brings to the fore, for the nth time, the urgent need for the PNP to do a thorough cleansing of its ranks and an upgrade of its capability.  Since its activation in 1991 the PNP has been hounded by cases of bungled police operations and police officers getting linked to criminal activities.

Something is wrong when some traffic cops and patrolmen engage in extortion activities like hulidup and mulcting grease money from drivers, street vendors, jaywalkers, vagrants and prostitutes.  Something is criminally wrong when some police officers get involved in illegal drugs and jueteng.  Something is terribly wrong when some policemen resort to third-degree treatment of crime suspects and extrajudicial killings to “solve” crime cases.  Something is definitely wrong when the premier law enforcement agency in the land has lost the trust and confidence of the people whom it has been created “to serve and protect.”

There was a time in our town of Talavera (Nueva Ecija) when policemen the likes of Mang Angeles Arenas and Mang Delfin Balajadia were dedicated public servants and highly respected members of the community.  It was the time when traffic policemen helped the elderly and children cross the street.  It was the time when patrolmen, on foot and in tandem, enforced the law and secured the community from criminals.  That time has long been gone.  I recently asked a young nephew of mine, a criminology graduate, what motivated him to join the police force.  “Maraming buhay-buhay uncle”, he quickly responded without batting an eyelash.

Pres. Aquino should now step in and put to task both the PNP and its mother agency, the Department of Interior and Local Government, to undertake a sweeping institutional reform of the entire police force in the country.  They should begin the process by showing to the world that decisive steps are being undertaken to prevent a repeat of the Luneta bloodbath, even as the entire nation mourns with the families of the victims from Hong Kong.

 
Published 26 August 2010
Pasig City, PHILIPPINES

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         

 

 

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