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5-member body starts 3-day probe of hostage drama

By Nikko Dizon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:16:00 09/03/2010

Filed Under: Grandstand Hostage, hostage taking, Crime and Law and Justice, Police

MANILA, Philippines?A marathon three-day inquiry into the botched hostage rescue drama opens on Friday amid hopes by the Philippines and China that the probe will be fair and thorough and those responsible will be held accountable.

Summoned to appear before a five-member fact-finding committee headed by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima was Undersecretary Rico Puno of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).

Puno, the highest ranking official in the Aquino administration called to testify, has administrative supervision over the Philippine National Police.

Also to take the witness stand Friday are PNP Director General Jesus Verzosa, Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, National Capital Region Police Office Director Leocadio Santiago and Chief Supt. Rodolfo Magtibay.

Magtibay was operational commander during the 11-hour standoff at Rizal Park that killed eight Hong Kong tourists and their abductor, Rolando Mendoza, a police senior inspector seeking reinstatement after he was dismissed for robbery and extortion.

Magtibay has since been relieved as chief of the Manila Police District (MPD).

Also summoned Friday were police negotiators and senior MPD officials involved in the bloody police assault covered live by international TV networks that sparked outrage in China and Hong Kong and dismay among Filipinos over the government?s ineptness.

Thorough and fair

?We are expecting the investigation to go smoothly and we are expecting a report of a thorough, fair and full investigation,? Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Liu Jianchiao told reporters Thursday following a 40-minute meeting with De Lima.

?I hope we see the results as soon as possible so that the [Hong Kong] people and the relatives of the [victims] will be consoled. An effective and efficient investigation will help us in getting better prepared for a similar incident,? Liu said.

?Our main objective is the truth will come out and parties responsible will be held accountable for their actions,? said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma.

He expressed hopes that the inquiry would ?bring about closure to an unfortunate incident and will enable our country to move on.?

De Lima?s committee has Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo as vice chair and representatives from the Chinese-Filipino community, Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas and Integrated Bar of the Philippines.

?Dirty Harry?

Mayor Lim, a former Manila police chief known as the Philippine version of movie detective ?Dirty Harry,? headed the hostage crisis management committee with Verzosa and Robredo as members.

Calls for Robredo?s sacking and his inhibition from the investigation because his department supervises the PNP have been dismissed by Palace officials who said that Puno had been specifically instructed by President Benigno Aquino III to handle police matters.

De Lima said she expected to submit a report to the President in two weeks.

Hong Kong forensic experts also are in town conducting a parallel investigation.

Hearings will continue on Saturday and Monday, when a reenactment of the shooting inside the bus seized by Mendoza will be held. The main witness there will be Alberto Lubang, driver of the van who escaped unscathed.

Also to appear on Monday is the ?mystery woman? who accompanied Mendoza in her car to Intramuros, where he commandeered the bus. She was reported to have also taken Mendoza?s family later to Rizal Park.

Victims to give testimony

De Lima said that she had received word that two of the hostage victims were now willing to give their statements to Philippine authorities after initially declining the request to be interviewed, saying they had suffered enough ?psychological trauma.?

She said her panel might send a team to talk to the victims in Hong Kong if necessary.

The National Bureau of Investigation Thursday continued to receive testimony for evaluation of the De Lima committee.

GMA-7 broadcaster Mike Enriquez and reporters Susan Enriquez and Michael Fajatin were summoned to the NBI headquarters but details of their statements were not revealed following a gag order by De Lima.

Media role in bloodbath

Reporting by GMA-7 of the arrest of Mendoza?s brother, SPO2 Gregorio Mendoza, was seen on the hijacked bus TV monitor and prompted the abductor to open fire on his hostages, according to police and news reports from the scene at the time.

The blow-by-blow media reports of the hostage drama have prompted calls for investigation of the role of radio and TV coverage in the carnage.

Supt. Nelson Yabut, who has been relieved as head of the Manila police deployment unit because his presence at the scene was unauthorized, also went to the NBI to give his statement.

The deputy hostage negotiator, Chief Insp. Romeo Salvador, likewise returned to the NBI office Thursday to conclude his testimony.

Other personalities whose statements have been obtained by the NBI were Magtibay, Radio Mindanao Network broadcasters, and ?Rose,? the woman who reportedly drove Mendoza from his Batangas home to Fort Santiago in Intramuros. With reports from Christine O. Avendaño, Jeannette I. Andrade in Manila; Maricar P. Cinco and Marrah Erika C. Lesaba, Inquirer Southern Luzon

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