Inquiry into Manila bus siege deaths

A hijacking incident ended with a bloody shoot-out and at least eight people dead, including seven tourists and their captor, an ex-police officer.

A paramedic (top) lowers one of the wounded survivor from the hijacked bus in Manila on August 23, 2010.  A dramatic hostage siege in the Philippine capital involving a busload of Hong Kong tourists ended after 12 hours with several captives walking free but the fate of 11 others unknown.    AFP PHOTO / JAY DIRECTO

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MANILA // The Philippine president, Benigno Aquino, ordered an investigation last night into the hijacking of a bus that ended with a bloody shoot-out and at least eight people dead, including seven tourists from Hong Kong and their captor. The 10-hour drama began when a 55-year-old ex-police officer, Rolando Mendoza, seized control of the bus and its 21 passengers in an attempt to get his job back after his dismissal on charges of robbery and extortion.

During the siege, a deal was reached with Mendoza to reopen the extortion case, said Manila's vice mayor, Isko Moreno. But it failed to avert a bloody confrontation. "I don't know what happened," Mr Moreno said. "I gave him what he wanted and everything seemed to be going well and we were looking at an end to the crisis. But something happened on the ground. There was shooting in the bus and the negotiator was pulled out and the Swat teams moved in."

Millions throughout the world watched on TV as heavily armed police commandos surrounded the bus and used sledgehammers to break windows and the door. Almost simultaneously, Mendoza started shooting. Police wearing gas masks hurled tear gas inside and surged into the rear of the bus. Within minutes, the siege ended, amid a swirling thunderstorm. The hijacking began at 10am when Mendoza, dressed in police uniform and carrying an M16 assault rifle, asked the bus driver, who was collecting passengers at a Manila hotel, if he could have a lift.

The bus was carrying 25 people, including 21 tourists from Hong Kong. Mendoza commandeered it just after it left the hotel to begin a tour of the city, the bus driver said. He ordered the driver to head to the Quirino Grandstand in Luneta Park overlooking Manila Bay, where Mr Aquino was sworn in as president in June. On a street near the park, Mendoza could be seen throughout the day standing at the door of the bus. On its windows he posted signs that spelt out his demands. "Big mistake to correct a big wrong decision," said one. "Big deal will start after 3.00 pm today," said another. The road was sealed off and police sharpshooters immobilised the bus by shooting its tyres. Nine of the passengers were released during the day: two women, three children, a diabetic man and three Filipinos. Mendoza was once a model officer who was honoured in 1986 as one of the Philippines' 10 outstanding policemen. But two years ago a hotel manager accused him and four other officers of planting drugs as part of a blackmail and extortion plot shortly before he was due to retire, and Mendoza was dismissed from the force in disgrace. "For a country trying to improve its international tourist reputation this will be a major setback," said Pete Troilo, director of business intelligence for Pacific Strategies and Assessments, a risk-management consultancy in Manila. "With tourism being such a high-priority item for the new government, this does not bode well." Manila was the scene of another bus hostage incident in 2007 when a civil engineer, Jun Ducat, a day-care centre owner, held more than 30 children and teachers captive in 2007. The standoff, which Ducat used to denounce corruption and demand better lives for impoverished children, lasted about 10 hours. He was convicted on 32 charges of illegal detention and abduction, illegal possession of explosives and illegal possession of firearms, and jailed for 20 years.