‘We are sorry’

WE commend President Duterte for apologizing to the Chinese people for the 2010 Quirino Grandstand tragedy in which 22 Hong Kong tourists were held hostage and eight were brutally killed by a dismissed Manila police officer.

“From the bottom of my heart, as the President of the Republic of the Philippines, and in behalf of the Filipino people, may I apologize formally to you now,” the President said last Thursday, before thousands of Filipino workers in Hong Kong, where he capped his four-day working visit to China.

“We are sorry that the incident happened and as humanly possible I would like to make this guarantee also that it will never happen again. I hope this would go a long way to really assuage the feeling of the Chinese people and government,” he added.

President Duterte did the right thing, even if the apology comes rather belatedly. In any apology, what matters is not only how it is conveyed—the empathy and sincerity of it—but also the timing. If the apology is given not only sincerely but promptly and without any conditions or justifications, then it is more likely to be satisfactory and acceptable to the aggrieved party. Nevertheless, a belated apology is better than no apology at all.

Former President Benigno S. Aquino III never apologized for the hostage taking. We believe that was a mistake that should have been corrected a long time ago. Yet, he kept insisting that the government didn’t do anything wrong because the hostage taking was the act of just one man. He also said apologizing would have created a legal liability and even cited Filipino fatalities in China for which Beijing had not apologized and paid compensation.

But this is our point. You apologize for something you did wrong, and there are many things the Philippine government did wrong on that fateful, tragic August Monday almost eight years ago. For instance, the hostage-taker (former Senior Insp. Rolando Mendoza who was shot and killed in the incident) was a dismissed member of the Philippine National Police—dismissed and yet he was still carrying his service firearms, an M16 Armalite rifle and a pistol.  These firearms should have been taken from him when he was fired from the police force. If he didn’t have these state-issued guns, he couldn’t have held the bus of Hong Kong tourists hostage.

We have the utmost respect for all the honest, hardworking and competent policemen in our police force. But Mendoza never belonged to their class. Mendoza had no business being in a position of authority for the state, much less having possession of a deadly weapon.

He and his rogue mobile patrol group were dismissed by the Office of the Ombudsman in 2009 for robbery-extortion and drug-related cases. Before this, Mendoza was also involved in the gang rape of a woman in Rizal Park in 1996, the same place where he would later hold hostage the Hong Kong tourists.

The case file says that Mendoza’s group arrested the woman for vagrancy in the vicinity of Quirino Grandstand, separated her from her boyfriend, then repeatedly raped her. The complainant failed to show up in court so the case was later dismissed. Why? What did they do to her? Scare her from further testifying? Or worse? We could only guess.

Like many corrupt police officers, Mendoza was allowed to go on with his merry ways. The Ombudsman was right to dismiss Mendoza and his men, to put a stop to their shenanigans. Indeed, they should not have only been dismissed but disarmed and put behind bars. They weren’t. And so Mendoza later ended up taking a busload of tourists hostage and shooting eight of them dead. This surely was a mistake of the Philippine government.

But the most monumental mistake, perhaps, is the botched rescue effort—a classic example of how not to deal with a hostage crisis. There were plenty of opportunities to take Mendoza out, incapacitate him, do whatever to stop him. There were so many things that could have been done to prevent the escalation of the hostage crisis into a bloodbath. These were things to apologize for, too. What Mendoza did in Manila, and how the government responded to the hostage taking was a national and international shame, truly something to be sorry for. To have those innocent tourists hurt and killed in a country where such a happy, peace-loving and friendly people live is something we are truly sorry for.

Image Credits: Jimbo Albano

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Turning Points 2018