i had been wondering how erap or villar or gibo or gordon would have handled the aug 23 hostage-taking, in contrast of course to the low-key laid-back wait-it-out style of the new prez. and then i read this in facebook via leslie bocobo and, oo nga naman, why wonder about losers. instead, what if FVR? under his watch we, and the world, would have at the very least “witnessed cogent efforts to end it without bloodshed.”
In answer to queries on what might have happened in FVR’s time had the Quirino tragedy taken place during his watch, here’s a probable picture recalling that, before his presidency, he was a former head of the national police (Phil. Constabulary), AFP Chief of Staff and Sec. of National Defense.
The Secretary of Interior and Local Government (SILG) and concurrently the National Police Commission (NAPOLCOM) Chair and National Committee on Anti-Hijacking and Terrorism (NACAHT) Chair, an intelligence exchange and crisis management body that only a few knew about, would play a key role.
Once known that a tourist bus was hijacked and foreign nationals held hostage, SILG would immediately notify FVR, adding that it was Live on global TV. He probably would have been aware already since his office monitors the news round-the-clock. He would have deemed it a national concern paving the entry of NACAHT.
FVR would instruct his crisis center in Malacanan manned by a joint AFP/PNP task force to coordinate with NACAHT. The National Security Adviser; DFA, DND, DOJ, DILG and Press Secretaries; and the President’s spokesman would be called to support the TF for the duration of the crisis. SILG would function as the Chief of the Office of Primary Responsibility to control the strategic play and keep FVR informed.
SILG would activate NACAHT, position it at the top floor of the Manila Hotel to gain a vantage view, and have it controlled by the Vice-Chair and concurrent DILG USEC for Peace and Order. He would likely invite the MMDA Chair and Mayor of Manila to join the PNP Chief, senior reps from the national government and other experts vital to the mission.Equipment that the venue didn’t have would be brought in to provide NACAHT a functioning crisis center on the ground.
An experienced and trustworthy ground commander (GC) to head the hostage rescue operations at the scene would be chosen next. He would quickly estimate the situation based on available intelligence, map out his strategy, draw up supporting plans and choose the personnel required to negotiate, disarm/disable or neutralize the hostage-taker while ensuring the hostages’ safety.
The GC would then assemble a potent hostage-rescue team (HRT) – negotiator/s; psychologist/s; crowd / perimeter control and SWAT teams – based on capability and track record. Crucial considerations for selection would be the need for continuous intelligence gathering, communication, coordination, thinking on the run, physical stamina and split second decisions, often under duress.
After NACAHT vets his strategy and plans, and obtains the TF’s concurrence, it would then be the GC’s play all the way. NACAHT would then become the GC’s advisory team and clearing house, breaking up into work shifts to monitor 24/7 to stay on top of the situation.
Should an unforeseen factor arise along the way that could jeopardize the mission or impact on the nation’s honor and integrity, NACAHT and the GC would quickly assess and process courses of action, choose the best options, and elevate to the TF for the President’s approval.
As soon as feasible, FVR would notify the Chinese Ambassador of the government’s efforts to ensure the safety of the hostages and its quick and peaceful resolution. He could graciously ask him and his police attache to advise the TF and NACAHT on the matter. He would also call the HK Administrator to keep him in the loop.
The President’s moves would be disclosed by his spokesman in a series of controlled press conferences, while the Press Secretary would brief the press about the rules of engagement in this delicate situation. A media pool would be organized to cover the event under the strict control of the GC to ensure that no punches are telegraphed unwittingly that could put the rescue mission at risk.
Regular feedback would be streaming to the TF from NACAHT. As commander-in-chief he could, if need be under extreme circumstances, intervene to order a freeze, to accelerate operations or modify strategies based on his appreciation of the dynamic situation. NACAHT would stay put in close proximity for quick communication and easy coordination until the job got done.
That was how FVR and his senior team could have likely handled the situation. The veterans who manned their battle stations and experienced harrowing situations would only be too willing to help by sharing a thing or two with the incumbents.
Enough said on that except for these personal observations:
* SILG Jesse Robredo had/has no command and control over the PNP; his Undersecretary does, on instructions of the President. That raises serious legal issues and complicates the system of public administration and governance.
* There was no functioningcrisis management committee (CMC) either at the national or at the local levels. An inexperienced GC was all alone to figure things out without professional CMC backing.
* The fraternal links of Manila Mayor Fred Lim, the ground commander, the HRT and the Mendoza brothers to the Manila Police Brotherhood, may have blurred logic, focus, priorities and dividing lines. The risk was the absence of check and balance, fanning laxity that led to tragedy.
* A cardinal rule is to never agitate the hostage-taker. They did. There were golden chances to disarm/disable Mendoza before he could inflict any harm. They didn’t take it. A functioning CMC in support of the GC should have persuaded the Ombudsman to issue a report clearing Mendoza (non-binding because it was obtained under duress). It didn’t.
That deception might have led him to give up at that stage. Then he could have been cuffed and charged for kidnapping, illegal possession of firearms and attempted murder; and locked away for good. It was worth a try, even if it failed, given his state of mind.
* The GC must never leave his post until the crisis is over. He did, on the invitation of the Mayor who got hungry. Instead of sending for food, they proceeded to a place that was not equipped to monitor the situation, thus, was nowhere near when Mendoza started killing.
* No one was thinking: of inserting a fiber optic camera to monitor the hostages and Mendoza; that Mendoza was monitoring from the bus’ radio-TV system and his cell phone, and was getting homicidal; of clamping down on the media that wanted to be part of the story instead of just reporting it.
* A professional team would have taken a minute or less to break-in, board, blastMendoza and secure the hostages. The PNP’s Special Action Force or Aviation Security Command would have been ideal, trained by the Australian SAS and Israel’s Yamam for close quarter battle (CQB). SAF was, in fact, on standby but never used.
Could a tragedy have been avoided in any case? Assuming the right components were in place with the right mindset, probably. With bad luck, maybe not, precious lives could have still been lost. But at least the world would have witnessed cogent efforts to end it without bloodshed, and the country’s honor as well as the people’s morale and self-esteem may not have taken such a beating.
I extend my deepest sympathies for the injured and sincerest condolences to the families of those who died. And for those who tried and failed, don’t despair; your fall might yet be your springboard to redemption. Just make it happen.