Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Command Responsibility

Having read and re-read all the reports coming out from last Monday's botched rescue attempt of Hong Kong tourists held hostage by a disgruntled police officer, one question pops to mind: Where was our president and what has he been doing throughout the whole ordeal?

A presidential spokesperson said that the president was monitoring the situation but left it to "concerned police authorities the handling of the matter."

At a time like this, especially when foreign nationals are involved, the president should, and must be visible. The hostage taker's demands were simple. The president could have gone on live TV to appeal to the gunman's sense of justice. He could have said he would personally guarantee to review his case, or even promise to reinstate him if only to appease the man. But no. He was out of the public eye, hiding inside the Palace rather than taking control of the situation -- something which his predecessor Gloria Arroyo would have done.

But no, Noynoy refuses to be compared to his predecessor and even went as far as to say that he was not going to divulge where he was during the entire ordeal. So much for his vow of transparency. At a time when the nation looked for leadership, there was none. This was evident in how the police handled the situation. It was as if no leadership existed and each police unit went their own way in trying to put an end to the situation. BBC even came up with their observation regarding our police's actions.

President Aquino must be held responsible for this failure, under the principle of command responsibility. His words to General Angue came to mind as i was writing this blog: "I am your Commander-in-Chief". This was no longer a local issue to be handled by local police. This was an international incident involving foreign nationals, and it was the job of the president not only to inform the government of the hostages of the situation but to give his personal assurance to the governments concerned that everything is being done for the safe release of their nationals. Sadly, this was not the case with our president. Donald Tsang, Hong Kong's chief executive, said in a statement that he kept calling President Aquino but the president was unavailable. It was his responsibility as Commander-in-Chief to be on top of the situation -- not just leaving everything to the police. Look where that got us.

He cannot hide from his responsibility, and he cannot point the finger at others for the failure of the police to rescue the hostages. He should have been on top of the situation, he should have ordered a media blackout (another thing his predecessor did during the height of the Manila Penn Siege) and he should have done everything in his power to make sure the hostages were released safe and sound.

This was his first major test as a leader, and he failed badly. Not only the Philippines witnessed this epic failure but also the rest of the world. To make matters worse, he did arrive much, much later at the scene, even captured on film smiling for the cameras.

Not even his explanations the next day as to what he did during the hostage drama could wash away the stink his non-appearance left in the wake of the previous night's events.

In a country where we look up to our leaders to be on top of every situation, it appears that "The President you dialed cannot be reached".

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Bloody End to Hostage Drama shows poor strategy on part of the Police

Maybe i've just been watching too many action movies, or maybe common sense just kicked in on my part --- whatever the reason, it was obvious, watching from local news coverage of the hostage drama at the Quirino Grandstand, that something was wrong with what the police did in trying to recuse the hostages inside the bus that was hijacked by Police Inspector Rolando Mendoza.

As far as i know, once negotiations break down, the use of rapid, deadly force is essential. What happened in Manila yesterday was the exact opposite. The police were slow, hesitant and indecisive. Their technique of trying to break the bus door using a mallet failed big time, and so with heir tactic of trying to pull the door away using a police car and a rope. These moves gave the hostage taker not just warning but time to set up a defensive position.

I remember a hostage drama in France a couple of years back. The rapid response force covered all sides of the vehicle and rushed in as the flash bangs went off. This took less than a minute. The one in the grandstand took about 30 minutes.

I also heard on the news last night that the reason the police decided to assault the vehicle was because of the statement of the driver who escaped from the bus that the hostages were dead. According to Judge Jimmy Santiago, former head of the SWAT team of MPD, this was erroneous since the report was unconfirmed. Santiago said that assaulting the bus without knowledge of the situation inside the bus was dangerous.

It was also reported last night that the arrest of the brother of the hostage taker on live television further angered him, prompting him to become violent. The police should not have done the arrest live on television, knowing that the hostage taker was monitoring the news inside the bus.

With this tragedy, the police should seriously re-think their rapid response tactics to ensure that such a tragedy will not happen again.