MANILA, Philippines?Rolando Mendoza knew he was not going to come out alive of the bus he had seized with 25 people aboard, mostly Hong Kong Chinese, when SWAT teams began moving toward the van parked in front of Quirino Grandstand as night fell Monday.
?They are all around,? the former police senior inspector demanding reinstatement after he was dismissed on extortion charges two years ago said in Filipino in what was his last radio interview after an 11-hour standoff turned into a bloodbath at Rizal Park under a heavy downpour.
?I know they will kill me, I?m telling them to leave because anytime I will do the same here,? said Mendoza, who was armed with an M-16 rifle.
Gunfire rang out moments later before local and international television cameras.
?I shot two Chinese. I will finish them all if they do not stop,? he told Radio Mindanao Network. Troops then stormed the bus.
At 8:45 p.m., 11 hours after he commandeered the vehicle at nearby Intramuros after a stop at Fort Santiago, Mendoza was dead with a bullet wound in the head, according to Supt. Nelson Yabut.
At least five hostages, including a Chinese woman, survived the massacre inside the bus and were taken to hospitals. They were among 15 hostages left after Mendoza earlier released nine bus passengers during the negotiations.
Officials said at least seven died in the gunfire, but there was still no overall death toll as of press time. The bodies were pulled out of the bus under a pouring rain at press time but it was unclear if they were dead.
One survivor, Filipino driver Alberto Lubang, said he saw bodies slumped on the steps of the bus as he fled miraculously unscathed in the fusillade after he managed to unlock the handcuffs holding him to the steering wheel with a nail cutter.
Gov?t is ?very sorry?
Malacañang said that President Benigno Aquino III met with officials of the Department of Interior and Local Government.
Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo later visited the crime scene and told reporters, ?The government is very sorry that the hostage taking ended like this.? He said the government had been in touch with Chinese authorities.
The Office of the Ombudsman said that Mendoza was among five officers charged with robbery, extortion and grave threats and dismissed after a Manila hotel chef filed a complaint alleging the policemen falsely accused him of using drugs to extort money.
Hong Thai Travel Services Ltd. general manager Susanna Lau told Hong Kong?s Cable TV the group tour had left Hong Kong on Aug. 20 for a visit to Manila and was scheduled to fly back to Hong Kong Monday.
Lau said a Hong Kong tour guide and 20 tourists from the territory?three children and 17 adults?were on the bus.
At about 9 a.m., Mendoza hitched a ride on the bus from Intramuros and then ?declared he is taking the passengers hostage? when the bus reached Rizal Park, said Chief Supt. Rodolfo Magtibay, the chief of the Manila Police District (MPD).
Apart from demanding his reinstatement, Mendoza also wanted to talk to reporters and asked that his son?also a policeman?be brought to him. He scribbled some of his demands on paper and plastered it on the bus windows and a windshield.
?Injustice was done on him?
A representative from the Office of the Ombudsman talked to Mendoza on the phone and promised to look into his case again, Mendoza?s brother, Florencio, told reporters.
Magtibay said his men had used the driver?s cell phone to talk to Mendoza. Another brother of Mendoza, Senior Police Officer Gregorio Mendoza, also helped in the negotiations, Magtibay said.
Gregorio, who is assigned to the MPD traffic bureau, said that his brother felt that ?injustice was done on him? when he had been fired.
?He was disappointed that he did well in police service but was dismissed for a crime he did not do,? he said.
The firing began shortly after Gregorio was arrested for attempting to enter the bus while armed to talk to his brother without authorization, police said.
Interviewed by reporters as he was being dragged away from the scene, Gregorio pleaded to President Aquino for help, which was heard by the brother on the TV receiver and radio inside the bus, according to the driver.
Media blamed for tragic end
A police official who requested anonymity blamed the media for the tragic end to the drama.
?If it were not for the live TV footage of his brother being arrested, we could have negotiated a solution to this, he said.
Police had asked the TV networks not to air sensitive portions of the negotiations and police actions because Mendoza was monitoring the media coverage.
Senior Supt. Fidel Posadas, MPD deputy chief, said he thought that Mendoza had ?calculated his actions.?
?As a former chief of the District Mobile Force, he knew it would be best if he positioned the bus in front of Quirino Grandstand,? he said.
Posadas said Mendoza contacted former police colleagues that he had held captive a busload of tourists. He also posted a handwritten note saying that a ?big deal? would happen after 3 p.m. but the deadline passed without incident.
Gregorio Mendoza was heard by reporters urging the gunman to extend the deadline by another 30 minutes.
He asked for food for those remaining on the bus, which was delivered, and fuel to keep the air-conditioning going.
A handwritten note, signed by Mendoza, saying ?BIG DEAL WILL START AFTER 3 PM TODAY? was stuck to the door of the bus.
A sign stuck to a window said ?3PM TODAY DEAD LOCK?.
Also stuck to the bus door was a piece of paper with the handwritten message: ?BIG MISTAKE TO CORRECT A BIG WRONG DECISION?. A larger piece of paper on the front windshield was headed ?RELEASE FINAL DECISION? and then what appeared to be details of his case.
?No due process?
Gregorio earlier told a local TV station that his brother was upset by his treatment and dismissal from the force.
?His problem was he was unjustly removed from service. There was no due process, no hearing, no complaint,? he said.
Police had established a landline connection with the bus, which was stopped across the eight-lane park road in front of Quirino Grandstand, where President Aquino took his oath of office on June 30.
The road was cordoned off, with the bus isolated inside the park. Nearby construction work was halted. A sizeable crowd gathered near the area. Several ambulances and a fire engine were on standby about 500 meters away, behind the police line.
Gregorio and Mendoza?s friend, SPO4 Roberto Agoho, were able to talk with the hostage-taker on the mobile phone after the 3 p.m. deadline had lapsed.
?Please let me talk with the authorities before you do what you want to do. Please let me negotiate first. I?m trying to talk to them,? Gregorio begged on the phone.
After their brief conversation, Gregorio and Agojo immediately went to the police precinct to relay Mendoza?s message to the police official.
?He was very upset?
Gregorio later told the media that his brother extended the deadline indefinitely and that he had asked for a media personality to act as negotiator.
?He was very upset that after he was illegally dismissed from the service, the PNP forfeited all his retirement benefits,? he said.
A police official, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said Mendoza had initially told the negotiators that he would ?fire a warning shot? if the police refused to grant his request to talk with a representative from the Ombudsman.
?His demand was very simple, but it was beyond our authority,? the official said.
Along with Mendoza?s wife Aurora, Gregorio and other family members were brought to a police precinct a few meters away from the bus carrying the hostages as authorities tried to negotiate for the safe release of the hostages.
Aurora wept as she begged the media not to interview her.
?She still could not believe that her husband had to resort to this. She was very worried about the safety of my brother after this,? Gregorio said.
Chief Insp. Gerald Dee said the police negotiators underestimated Mendoza.
?He was very cooperative at first. We did not think that he could do what he did ? the arrest of his brother Gregorio and nephew triggered Mendoza to kill his hostages,? Dee said. With reports from Christine O. Avendaño, Philip C. Tubeza, Jeannette Andrade, Miko Morelos, Alcuin Papa, AP, AFP and Reuters