Coffins of Hong Kong tourists killed in Philippine hostage crisis were ‘mislabelled’.
Authorities have been criticised for their handling of the hostage crisis in Manila [AFP]
Authorities in the Philippines have begun a three-day inquiry into a botched hostage rescue operation in which eight Hong Kong tourists were killed in the capital, Manila.
Leila de Lima, the Philippine justice secretary who is heading the probe, launched the proceedings on Friday, summoning Rico Puno, the country’s undersecretary of the department of interior.
Puno, the highest ranking official being asked to testify so far, admitted to several mistakes that led to the tourists’ deaths during the 11-hour hostage standoff on August 23.
He told the inquiry panel that he had not been prepared for the situation, which began when sacked Philippine policeman Rolando Mendoza hijacked a tourist bus in Manila.
“I am not capable in handling hostage situations,” Puno said.
“I am not trained to do that. I do not have the experience to handle hostage negotiations.”
The hostage drama was played out on television screens around the world and ended in a botched rescue attempt in which Mendoza was also killed.
|Police eventually killed the hostage taker
in the 11-hour crisis [Getty]
The deaths of the Hong Kong tourists triggered public outrage over the mishandling of the crisis and investigations into whether the hostages were killed by Mendoza or by police weapons.
Puno told the inquiry on Friday that crisis management authorities had decided against ordering police snipers to shoot Mendoza in an attempt to save the lives of everyone on board the bus.
Alan Robles, the editor of the online news bulletin Hot Manila, told Al Jazeera: “Listening to this hearing … there is something wrong with the values of the officials.
“Because when they learnt of the hostage situation they didn’t humour the hostage taker’s demands or when they had the chance to shoot him they didn’t take the chance because they didn’t want to put other people in danger.
“It is a true Philippines tradition when there is a disaster or catastrophe and no one pays for it. So there is not much hope here.”
The chaotic final moments of the hostage siege will be re-enacted as part of the investigation into the tragedy.
Among those who will help reconstruct the event is the Filipino driver of the seized bus who dramatically escaped from the vehicle’s window moments before the assault by police commandos.
De Lima said the re-enactment would take place on Monday, when authorities also intended to wrap up the investigation before submitting a detailed report to president Benigno Aquino.
The Philippine government has admitted to making a number of errors in its handling of the crisis, which has dented relations between authorities in Hong Kong and China and the Philippines.
Tensions were further strained this week when three coffins used to bring back some of the dead tourists were mislabelled.
The mix-up was discovered on Thursday after the family of one victim went to a Hong Kong mortuary to identify their dead relative only to find the coffin contained the body of another victim of the hijacking.