MANILA, Philippines?Saving lives takes precedence over the public?s right to know.
This was the message anticrime crusader Teresita Ang See Tuesday sought to convey to the staff of Radyo Mo Nationwide (RMN) during a hearing on the botched hostage crisis last month that killed eight Hong Kong tourists.
The member of the presidential committee looking into the Aug. 23 fiasco said that RMN failed to observe a ?humane duty? to prevent the bloodbath.
A visibly angry Ang See said none of the RMN staff on the phone with the hostage-taker, Senior Insp. Rolando Mendoza, moments before police mounted an assault on the bus he had seized, had bothered to plead for the lives of the hostages.
?Didn?t you think of talking to him for the release of the hostages?? she asked RMN anchor Michael Rogas.
?Apparently you had the line but you did not even bother to make an appeal to free the hostages,? she said in a raised voice.
Rogas said he repeatedly asked Mendoza to stay calm and not to harm the hostages as his station was attempting to relay his demands to police officials.
?We really wanted to know the condition of the hostages. We are not the negotiators,? Rogas stressed.
?It?s not our fault?
But Ang See, representative of the Chinese-Filipino community in the five-member panel, said Rogas and fellow RMN broadcaster Erwin Tulfo could have begged for the safety of the captives instead of merely seeking out their condition inside the bus.
?I know it?s not your role. I know that. But couldn?t you have done your humane duty to do something about it?? she asked.
?Your first duty was (to care) for human lives. That?s more important,? Ang See said. ?No profession should ever be more important than (saving) human lives and more important than showing what was happening inside (the bus).?
?That?s true, but it?s not our fault. We just did our job to report,? said Jake Maderazo, another RMN anchor.
The Philippine broadcast media have come under fire for their blow-by-blow reporting of the 11-hour standoff that critics said contributed to the tension.
Lawmakers are proposing a law barring live coverage of life-threatening situations like the Aug. 23 carnage.
Caught by surprise
Witnesses have testified that Mendoza started firing after he saw an on-the-spot report on the TV receiver inside the bus of the arrest of his brother, SPO2 Gregorio Mendoza, for allegedly being a conspirator.
?We wanted to protect the lives of the hostages. But we were all caught by surprise. Suddenly, there was the altercation between the negotiator and the hostage-taker. Mendoza suddenly lost his cool. How should we react? It?s hard to take the right stance in that situation,? Maderazo said.
?Believe me. I?ve been with the broadcast industry for several years and I know how hard it is for anchors to throw questions when lives were on the line. Frankly, we?re nervous that time.?
Ang See told Maderazo that he should have realized that hostage-takers tended to grandstand whenever the media interviewed them.
She said the same happened when engineer Jun Ducat held captive a busload of preschoolers, also in Manila, in 2007.
?You did not think about it precisely because you were covering him. That he was grandstanding all the while, but you did not realize it,? she said.
Accompanied by former Sen. Aquilino ?Nene? Pimentel Jr., Rogas and Maderazo gave the transcript of Mendoza?s interview to the investigating body headed by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.
The radio station, likewise, presented an unedited copy of the three-and-a-half-hour audio recordings of its special coverage of the crisis.
?RMN is just doing its sworn duty to bring and inform the public all sides and angles of the hostage-taking event as it unfolds,? Maderazo read from a prepared statement.