Police may have killed some of the eight tourist victims in Philippines hostage crisis

Correction — September 15, 2010
This article was previously published under a misleading headline that implied that police may have killed all eight tourists who died.
Correction — December 24, 2012
One of the sources for this article is misidentified in the text as "Associated Free Press"; the source is from AFP, Agence France-Presse

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The bus on which the 25 people, of which 21 people were from China, were taken hostage by disgruntled former policeman Rolando Mendoza, who was fired from the police force for misconduct.

Some of the eight tourist fatalities involved in a bus hijacking in the Philippines in August may have inadvertently been shot by police during a raid on the vehicle, authorities investigating the incident have said. Philippine justice secretary Leila de Lima told Sky News that bullet trajectories and wounds received by the hostages indicate that some of the eight were killed by “friendly fire”.

She did not confirm, however, that the wounds inflicted by police bullets were the ones which led to the deaths of the hostages. "There is a big possibility that there [was] friendly fire," she said. "We are not focusing on [the possibility], but we should never miss that. Otherwise our report will be less than thorough." Police have insisted that all the fatal wounds were inflicted by the hostage taker’s gun. They maintain that other bullets, fired at the bus by police snipers and an assault unit, did not lead to the deaths of the tourists.

The incident occurred when a former Filipino policeman kept tourists from Hong Kong, China, hostage by hijacking their bus in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. Rolando Mendoza fired his M16 rifle at the tourists, before being gunned down and killed after an eleven-hour standoff with police.

Although President Benigno Aquino III warned against people coming to conclusions regarding the operation before an investigation has been carried out, he also pledged that anyone found by the investigators to have failed in their duties would have criminal charges filed against them.

"Our government is now focused on taking the necessary steps to prevent this tragedy from ever happening again," said Aquino during a live interview on national television. "Let me just say that this incident will not define this administration." The report is expected to be released on September 15.

De Lima, who is heading up the inquiry, added that forensic examinations on a number of the dead tourists did not match the statement made by the bus driver, who claimed that the gunman shot them at close range. "What is crucial, occupying our minds, is if the shots were made at close range, [these] are not consistent with forensic findings," she said. De Lima states that the entry points of the wounds did not show burn marks that would have been caused by the muzzle of a gun being shot from close range. She added that it was possible that other units deployed around the bus may have fired on it. China criticized the rescue operation, stating that the Philippine police force who carried out the raid were poorly trained and under-equipped to handle the situation.

Aquino says he makes himself personally responsible for the incident, which according to the Associated Free Press has "chilled ties with Hong Kong and damaged the Philippine tourism industry." He added that he intends to form an elite unit to engage in a similar incident, which would consist of 200 and 400 soldiers and police officers who are capable of responding to any threats or incidents that occur in the country.

Mendoza was reportedly taking revenge for having been fired from the from the Police Force after claims of robbery and the use of drugs were made against him. His brother explained that "his problem was he was unjustly removed from service. There was no due process, no hearing, no complaint." Both government officials and his brother had tried to negotiate with him to release the hostages.