August 23, 2010: A disgruntled and decorated police officer who had been dismissed on charges of extortion took hostage a bus full of tourists from Hong Kong. The hostage drama unfolded in front of the Quirino Grandstand in Manila with the expected media circus, confused cops and SWAT who didn’t know what to do and a tragic ending that involved dead hostages and a bullet to the head.
I wasn’t there of course. In fact when the topic first started trending on twitter I dismissed it and went about whatever I was doing at the time and later took a nap. By the time I woke up, hostages had died and the situation had escalated, negotiations had apparently failed and the SWAT team was ready to assault the bus.
At first, like everyone else I was appalled at the incompetence of the law enforcement units handling the matter, especially with the rumors circulating that they had actually had training on this type of bus assault scenario before/recently. But when I think about it, our cops are poor and underpaid and working with substandard equipment and procedures and still they have to risk assaulting that bus and getting shot. I wouldn’t excuse them for the outcome of the event, but things can always end badly and in our case there are so many things contributing to that grisly end.
What about Captain Mendoza, the hostage taker, who claims he was unjustly dismissed from the force? It is easy to blame him as well. Of course we all agree that taking a bus full of tourists hostage is not the best way to air his grievances. But he is just another underpaid cop and was now even denied his measly pension. He could air his concerns to the media but would anyone listen? He could take it up with the courts but how long would that take? Instead of suffering through a long, arduous process of reclaiming his allegedly stolen honor, he chose to take a radical approach to get attention to his cause.
And of course it worked. The media lapped it up. The major TV stations, in their relentless quest for even more ratings kept trying to outdo each other in their coverage and in airing his side and the details of his case. It’s easy to say the media exacerbated the situation what with their broadcasting details of the police operations and of the arrest of the hostage taker’s brother. But the fact is that we the viewing public, we love this stuff, this drama. We stay glued to our TVs and radios and twitter streams, hoping to see how this unsightly assault on our country’s tourism industry would conclude. Can we blame the media for giving us what we want?
It’s easy to criticize, but it’s not like we were the ones there on the scene having to deal with the chaos and the media and the rain.
It’s easy to lay blame, but we can’t go back and change what happened. Hopefully the people in charge, and that law enforcement and media outlets and even we the people to whom these entities should be held accountable study the failures and learn the lessons and do what needs to be done to avoid another such incident staining our not-so-good-in-the-first-place international reputation.