Eight Hong Kong tourists were shot dead in the bloody end to the seizure of a bus in Manila by a disgruntled police inspector, who was also killed when officers stormed the vehicle.
Former senior inspector Rolando Mendoza, armed with an M-16 assault rifle, was shot in the head by a sniper, Superintendent Nelson Yabut told reporters. The eight tourists were confirmed dead by four Manila hospitals. The Hong Kong government had earlier put the death toll at seven during a press briefing, with two critically wounded.
Police moved in to end the standoff after about 10 hours when shots were heard from the bus on which Mendoza was holding 15 Hong Kong tourists to protest his dismissal for extortion of a suspect.
The drama began around 10 a.m. yesterday when Mendoza seized a busload of at least 20 tourists and at least three Filipino employees in the historic district of Manila. He freed nine people, and demanded his reinstatement to release the others.
The situation deteriorated as night fell and armed assault police took up position near the bus, according to TV footage and comments made by Mendoza to a local radio station that were reported by Agence France-Presse. Mendoza said he had killed two of the tourists and threatened to shoot the others, AFP said.
Police wearing flak jackets attempted to storm the bus and were forced to retreat after bullets were sprayed through one of the windows toward the vehicle’s rear about 8:20 p.m. local time. They were unable to shoot him earlier because he was using his hostages as human shields, Yabut said.
Police had been planning to wait out the hostage-taking before the situation deteriorated rapidly, forcing the assault, President Benigno Aquino said in a televised briefing in Manila. Retaking the bus by force was the “final option” because the hijacker seemed non-belligerent at the start, Aquino said.
The arrest of Mendoza’s brother agitated him and he shot at negotiators, Aquino said.
Mendoza, 55, was dismissed early this year for extorting 20,000 pesos ($443) from a drug suspect and forcing him to swallow a sachet containing the illegal drug methamphetamine hydrochloride, or ice, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported, citing police records.
During the siege signs held up to the bus windows read “big mistake to correct a big wrong decision.”
Low on Peace Index
The incident underscores the risks of traveling and working in a country ranked 130th out of 149 in the Global Peace Index, a measure of factors such as violent crimes, access to weapons and political instability. Newly elected President Benigno Aquino faces three armed insurgencies from Islamic and Communist groups, and has pledged to crack down on corruption in the police force and end the use of more than 100 private armies.
“This isn’t one isolated incident,” said Dane Chamorro, an analyst at Control Risk Asia, which advises companies on political and economist risk. “The problems are not things that happened in last five or 10 years, but have been there for decades” and any solution would require “more than a five- or six-year term in office,” he said.
The Philippines attracted 2.7 million tourists last year, about 4 percent of all arrivals into the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, according to the bloc’s website. Malaysia led Southeast Asia with 23.6 million visitors, followed by Thailand with 14.1 million, Singapore with 9.7 million and Indonesia with 6.5 million.
Hong Kong’s government has arranged two flights to Manila for relatives of the hostages, Chief Executive Donald Tsang said at a briefing yesterday, adding that all the city’s citizens should leave the Philippines as soon as possible.
In a separate incident, a South Korean pastor was shot dead on his way home from the airport in Manila, South Korea’s foreign ministry said yesterday. The killing was unrelated to the bus hijacking, ministry spokesman Kim Young Sun told reporters in Seoul. Two of seven other South Koreans who were with the pastor at the time of the attack were unharmed, Kim said.