No need for more apologies

September 6, 2010

Efren L. Danao
The Manila Times
September 6, 2010

Senators Francis Pangilinan and Joker Arroyo said Sunday that enough apologies had already been given by the Philippines on the death of eight Hong Kong tourists held hostage by a dismissed Manila policemen. At the same time, the head of the country’s police forces, Director General Jesus Versoza, on Sunday said he is taking full responsibility for his men’s failures in handling the hostage crisis.

The two senators were reacting to a resolution adopted by Hong Kong legislators seeking apology from Manila and compensation for the families of the fatalities.

“The President has already expressed regrets over the incident and has apologized. That should be enough said,” Pangilinan said.

The apology by President Benigno Aquino 3rd came even before the adoption of the resolution by Hong Kong lawmakers. The President declared a Day of Mourning and ordered the flying of the flag at half-mast after expressing regrets for the incident. The Senate also adopted a resolution expressing its sympathies with the Hong Kong government and the hostage victims.

“We have done enough. We cannot be extending a never-ending apology over the incident,” Senator Arroyo said.

The President ordered an investigation into the issue and assumed full responsibility for the botched attempt to rescue the Hong Kong hostages.

Aquino not well-advised

Senator Arroyo said that President Aquino’s advisers did not do anything good in telling him to assume responsibility for the fiasco.

“That sounds good but it means nothing. That cheapens the presidency,” he added.

The senator explained that when one accepts responsibility, one must also assume accountability.

“The President is not resigning. None of his Cabinet members is resigning. There is no accountability,” he said.

Senator Arroyo chided the President’s advisers for wanting Mr. Aquino to have press statements on almost everything.

Senators Pangilinan and Arroyo were also cautious on giving compensation to the slain hostages.

“I am supportive of it, but there are legal ramifications that need to be threshed out before compensation for the victims can be agreed upon,” Pangilinan said.

Meanwhile, the Senate Committee on Mass Media headed by Sen. Gregorio Honasan will hear Tuesday the role of broadcast media in the August 23 hostage-taking incident. The live coverage of the arrest of his brother had reportedly infuriated the hostage-taker, resulting in his shooting to death eight of his hostages.

Senator Arroyo said there is already a memorandum circular from the Philippine National Police (PNP) on how media should conduct itself in critical situations.

“But it seems media is unaware of this, and the PNP is too afraid of media to enforce it,” he said.

The key points of the circular are for media to provide limited telecast, stay out of the line of fire; not to impede the operations of police authorities; not to interview the hostage-taker; not to describe the positions of snipers and activities of authorities, and not to release data until it is safe for the operations.

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto 3rd said that the hearing should result in the clearer definition of media’s role in critical situations.

“What I noticed was that our coverage was sensationalized compared to that of CNN. ABS-CBN, GMA 7, and Channel 5. They had five to six cameras, as in reality tv. CNN used only one camera,” he said.

Versoza apologizes

Versoza apologized for the botched police operations on the hostage-taking incident.

“More than ever, it is imperative to take responsibility especially with regards to what has transpired in the past week,” he said in a statement.

Five police officers who led the botched rescue had already been suspended in the political fall-out after the crisis.

Versoza said he was also accountable for all police officers “in everything they do and failed to do.” He had told the inquiry earlier that he left town at the height of the crisis on an official business.

Versoza said he was stepping down on September 15, three months ahead of schedule.

Govt needs more time

Meanwhile, the Philippines on Sunday said it needed more time to complete its official inquiry into a deadly hostage crisis.

The investigation, which began last week, was scheduled to be finished today before a formal report is submitted to President Aquino and Hong Kong authorities.

But members of the investigating committee need more days to question witnesses and to re-enact the hostage drama, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima told Agence France-Presse.

“We will be extending up to Wednesday, it is not possible to wrap up [the investigation tomorrow or Monday],” she said.

De Lima added that members of the Incident Investigation and Review Committee would on Tuesday inspect the park where the hostage taking played out live on televisions around the world on August 23.

A reenactment of the day-long crisis was to be also carried out Wednesday at a police camp where the bullet-riddled bus is being kept, she said.

Hong Kong authorities have demanded a speedy and impartial investigation amid a public outcry and a chilling of ties between the neighbors.

The inquiry has so far uncovered embarrassing lapses from police and city officials who took part in the failed hostage negotiations.

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