Hundreds attend funeral of Manila hijacker

Crowd fills church for funeral mass of former senior inspector Rolando Mendoza to remember him for his police honours and not for Monday's tragedy.

TANAUAN // Scores of mourners attended the burial today of the sacked policeman who hijacked a bus in Manila, triggering a hostage crisis in which eight Hong Kong tourists were killed. Even as the government tried to distance itself from the incident, hundreds crowded into a church for the funeral mass of former senior inspector Rolando Mendoza's home, to remember him for his police honours and not for Monday's tragic events.

"There are so many mourners because he was a good man. You never heard about him doing anything bad," said warehouse worker Mark Torres, a family friend attending the vigil in Tanauan, a small city south of Manila. Francisco Misaba, a district watchman, said he had been assigned to manage the traffic because of the large number of people attending Mendoza's requiem and burial. Mr Misaba said: "There will be plenty of people attending because he had a lot of friends. Just about everyone in the district was his friend," he said.

Mendoza's family has refused to grant press interviews. But at the vigil, held in Mendoza's home, they put his numerous citations on display alongside many floral wreaths sent by fellow policemen. Later, as Mendoza's body was placed into its grave, his son, Vismark, who is also a police officer, openly wept, sobbing: "I will never see his smile again." No officials attended the event and the only uniformed policemen at the funeral was Mendoza's son but many media outlets, including Hong Kong photojournalists, were present.

Mendoza, a decorated officer who had been sacked over extortion charges, took a bus-load of Hong Kong tourists hostage in Manila on Monday, demanding to be reinstated. This led to a 12-hour siege of the bus and police negotiations that ended in bloodshed, with Mendoza and eight of the tourists shot dead. The bungled rescue has enraged Hong Kong and embarrassed the Philippine government, which has called for an investigation.

Further embarrassment came yesterday when the Chinese embassy condemned the draping of Mendoza's coffin with a Philippine flag as if he was a hero. The Philippine government said the flag had been placed there by Mendoza's family and had been later removed by a city official. Mr Torres said he could not explain Mendoza's violent actions, adding that he had never heard of any misdeeds committed by the former policeman.

"I don't think he went insane. He just believed what he was fighting for," he said. "I can't really say that he was justified, because people died. But we can't say he was totally wrong, either." Mr Misaba said: "We don't understand why he did this. All we know is that he is now dead." A presidential spokesman, Herminio Coloma, said the results of an investigation would soon be presented to Hong Kong authorities.

"We are doing everything to ensure that we have comprehensive, thorough and accurate findings," he said in an interview on government radio on Saturday. He said it was too early to say if any of the eight hostages had been killed by gunfire from the police rescue team. Mr Coloma said he hoped that a planned rally in Hong Kong on Sunday to demand justice for the victims would not affect the estimated 200,000 Filipinos working there, most of them as domestic helpers.

"Hopefully it will not reach that point and that in the coming days the anger will cool down and we can both move on," he said. Mr Coloma advised the Filipinos in Hong Kong, who normally gather together in huge numbers on Sunday, their day off, to take precautions in the meantime. "Probably the best thing to do is be prudent, be careful when talking. They can tell if their physical presence in their gathering places might provoke an untoward incident," he said.

Filipino union leaders have reported reprisals against the community by Hong Kong employers incensed at the hijacking. * AFP