YOU COULDN?T have watched the last few moments of the hostage-taking last Monday without feeling weak in the knees. And violently angry. The spectacle of so many dead, among them women, when they did not need to be so, there are no words to describe the absolute idiocy of it.
Sacking the entire officialdom of the Philippine National Police won?t do justice to it. A group of ROTC trainees or village watchmen, one that hadn?t undergone any training in the art of negotiation, would have done better.
What is the first rule in hostage-taking? Secure the safety of the hostages.
What was the first thing the cops did? Act like they were in an action movie.
Why in hell couldn?t they simply agree to all the hostage-taker?s demands? Or put more brainlessly, why in hell couldn?t they simply have humored him? Was he asking for the release of the most dangerous criminals from Hong Kong? No. Was he asking for a jet that would take him to another country? No. Was he asking for a cache of weapons to be delivered to a terrorist organization? No. Was he asking for the most unreasonable, atrocious, despicable things in the world? No.
He was asking to be given back his job.
Which alone must suggest the brittle, fragile, stretched-to-breaking-point state of his mind. If you?re reasonably sane, will you possibly entertain the prospect of being reinstated after embarking on a course of action that terrorizes women and children, embarrasses the government, and threatens an international incident? You know you?re dealing with someone like that, and you don?t just go along with him the way you would a mental inmate holding a knife? What will it cost you to do it? You figure you?ll be bound by any agreement you get into that way?
The tack of humoring him, or appeasing him, or calming him down was already producing results. He asked for food, and upon being given food, he released some hostages. He asked for gas to keep the engine and air-conditioning running, and upon being given gas, he released some hostages.
He asked for the media, but that one wasn?t given to him. Now I can imagine that some anti-terrorist code book must say that terrorists should not be given the outlet to perorate on their agenda, but again what were we dealing with here? A guy who believed he was sacked unjustly. Who might have cluttered the airwaves with his views about how robbery and extortion are not just grounds for sacking a cop a few months going before retirement, but who cares? Talk is cheap.
Lives are not.
Was it so utterly inconceivable to the minds of the so-called negotiators there that if they had given him everything he asked, none of which remotely constituted murder, he would have released all his hostages?
What boggles the mind is not understanding the mind of the hostage-taker, it is understanding the mind of the hostage-freers. Later they would keep saying as though it were proof of their professionalism, skill and preparedness that one of their sharpshooters managed to take the hostage-taker out with one shot after he went on a killing spree. Big deal. The question is: Why did he have to go on a killing spree to begin with? Leaving a trail of 10 dead bodies behind, including his own?
That wasn?t unprovoked. What triggered it was the police deciding to storm the bus after ?negotiations broke down.? Specifically after the hostage-taker flew into a rage after his brother, who had been brought to him and fulminated with him about the injustice of his plight, was removed from the premises, and he fired a warning shot. Why should that justify an assault? A hostage-taker flies into a rage, you wait for him to calm down. Negotiations break down, you wait for them to resume. Of course every hour that the situation drags on makes the hostages more tired and hungry and fearful. But better that than that the swift conclusion makes them dead.
It was raining like mad that night. You could barely make out anything through the television cameras. The whole day, some officials were saying on TV that if this dragged on, it could hurt tourism. It would make the country the laughing stock of the world and keep the tourists out. So rather than pitch tent, drink coffee, and wait out the darkness, the downpour and the downed talks, the cops decided to attack. Who knows? They probably saw their names in the international news as the heroes of the day. They probably saw their names in the marquees in movies made after the deed.
All they will see now is their names spattered in blood. All they ought to see now is their names spattered in blood.
The Hong Kong government has slammed Philippine authorities for bungling the crisis. The world has slammed Philippine authorities for bungling the crisis. They have every reason to. This wasn?t a case of someone who was willing to blow himself up and everybody around him if the world did not convert to his beliefs. This was not a case of someone who was willing to shoot everybody up and himself along with it for the greater glory of his God. This wasn?t a case of someone who was willing to reduce the population of this planet because he heard voices in his head.
This was a case of a deluded cop who wanted his job back. If you can bungle something like this, what can you not bungle?
But beyond the anger, all I could see in my mind last Monday night while watching the mayhem with mouth agape was the faces of the hostages. Men, women and children who had been laughing earlier that day, taking pictures of the Luneta, reveling in the vistas of another country, wondering what new wonders the day would unfold. Who had now been thrown into depths of anguish. Who were now lying in stretchers, broken in mind and body. Who were now dead.
I was ashamed. I am ashamed. Deeply, deeply ashamed.