Philippines hostage crisis exposes police corruption, ineptitude

In wake of a Philippines hostage crisis that left 9 people dead, lawmakers have called for the resignation of Manila’s police commander, the chief of the National Capital Region police, and the head of the SWAT force.

Bullit Marquez/AP
Relatives of the eight Hong Kong tourists who were killed in the Philippines hostage crisis, kneel in respect near the tourist bus during a Buddhist ceremony Tuesday in Manila, Philippines.

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The Congress of the Philippines will conduct an investigation into this week's mishandling of a hostage situation in Manila. A disgruntled policeman hijacked a bus full of tourists on Monday, leading to an 11-hour standoff with SWAT forces that left eight Hong Kong tourists and the hostage-taker dead.

The bloody debacle intensifies scrutiny of the Philippines police, which has been accused of corruption, torture, and ineptitude.

IN PICTURES: Philippines bus hostage crisis

The tragedy unfolded Monday when Rolando Mendoza commandeered a bus full of tourists from Hong Kong, demanding to be reinstated to his job in the police force. Mr. Mendoza was fired in 2008 for extortion. Police attempted negotiation, but the 11-hour standoff ended when Mendoza began shooting and police stormed the bus.

The Philippine Star reports that Congress has ordered a probe into the episode, and some lawmakers have called for the resignation of Manila’s police commander, the chief of the National Capital Region police, and the head of the SWAT force.

Four members of the SWAT team have already lost their jobs and the Manila Police District chief, who directed the response to the hijacking, has offered to go on leave, saying he takes full responsibility for the episode, reports the Manila Bulletin. But the head of the National Capital Region Police has refused to step down, saying he will await the results of the investigation.

The national police force Tuesday admitted that it had bungled its response, reports Reuters. Police officials said the force handled the negotiations poorly, and the SWAT team that stormed the bus was poorly equipped and trained. Reuters reports that the weapons used in the incident are being tested to uncover whether the tourists were shot by Mendoza or by police officers during the raid.

Agence France-Presse reports that the incident is the latest in a string of scandals for the police force and highlights deeper problems than just poor training and equipment.

The bloody conclusion to Monday's hijacking highlighted a myriad of problems within the much-maligned force of 135,000, according to human rights advocates, the Philippine media and security experts.

"There is something wrong with the national police. It is viewed more as a source of livelihood for the policemen rather than an institution to protect law and order," human rights lawyer Harry Roque told AFP.

... Roque said one of the force's biggest problems was corruption. There have been many accounts of prospective recruits paying bribes to join the service, and paying again to get important posts with the express intention of using their positions to make money, Roque said.

Last week, a video emerged showing policemen abusing a man in a Manila police station, reports AFP. And more than 60 members of the police force have been accused in the massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao last year.

An editorial in The Philippine Star argues it is time for a “housecleaning” in the police force.

Coming on the heels of the cell phone video showing a robbery suspect being tortured by a Tondo police officer, Mendoza’s caper gives added urgency to the need for a thorough housecleaning in the PNP and an upgrade in its capability. This should include a review of procedures involving dismissed or suspended cops. Why does a dismissed police officer, especially one sacked for extortion, have an M-16 assault rifle and a pistol?

IN PICTURES: Philippines bus hostage crisis

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