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The tourist hostage  crisis ended with eight Chinese tourists dead and the hostage-taker killed by a sniper. On the other hand, seven hostages were rescued, some of them wounded. Earlier, six of them, together with three Filipino guides, were freed in negotiations. The driver was able to escape just as the hostage-taker started firing at his hostages.

Post-mortem analyses will always be different from in situ ones. The latter usually do not have the luxury of time and information as the former. However, there are observations that can be made even when the situation was still unfolding. And none of them places the police and responsible government authorities in good light.

One, is it not part of the standard operating procedures (SOP) that when the hostage-taker is from the local police force (or a former member thereof), the higher authority takes charge of the crisis? Is it also not part of the SOP that when foreigners are involved–whether as victims or perpetrators–the national authorities has direct supervisory role or even command of the operations?

In my mind, the MPD can be part of the task force but should not have been the command of the crisis team. Their own colleague is involved and their decisions can be clouded, as I think what happened to the risky decision to have the hostage-taker’s brother take part in the negotiations. It is also a possibility that the hostage-taker may have sympathetic colleagues or accomplice among the MPD elements involved.

Two, the handling of public and media access to the hostage crisis was atrocious. Although there was a defined perimeter around the hostage scene, it proved to be too close and unmanageable when the public and media people stampeded into the prohibited zone minutes after the death of the hostage-taker. There was also no discernible crowd control force on site. It was just luck that only one civilian bystander was hit by stray fire.

Three, the media obviously had a field day in covering the hostage crisis, with no agreement or precious few rules to go by. In some instances, members of the media exposed police movements and key operational personnel such as police snipers and their positions, put in public view, including the hostage-taker, vital operations (such as the arrest of the hostage-taker’s brother). All in the name of news scopes! The government, in this case, has the responsibility of forging rules of engagement by the media, and actually regulating their coverage to serve both the aims of a free media and the operational requirements.

Fourth, there is a proliferation of spokesperson for government–from the police officers in various levels of responsibility to politicians and civilian officials. Many of them do not have the specialized training for the role and may therefore have inadvertently affected the negotiations and the over-all environment of the hostage crisis. The government should have designated only one spokesman and that’s that!

The situation cries out for training and re-training of all military, police, and civilian officials and personnel who may be involved in hostage crises in the future. It also calls for industry standards and regulations for the media community. Additionally, government policy and rules of engagement must be clarified.

Nobody wanted what happened at the Luneta this August 23, 2010.  Much more, nobody wants it repeated in the future.

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