Philippines Reels From Hostage Nightmare
In the 1994 film "Speed" starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, the entire premise is captured with the memorable line, "There's a bomb on the bus!"
In the 2010 hostage situation drama broadcast live from the Philippines on Monday, the memorable quote may as well have been, "There's a bum on the bus!"
Rolando Mendoza, 55, a former police officer who claimed that he was wrongly relieved of his duties, held 22 tourists from Hong Kong and three Filipinos hostage on a bus in central Manila. The standoff lasted for close to 12 hours and ended with at least nine people dead, including the hostage-taker. The situation is a concrete illustration of what is wrong with the Philippines. Here's why:
The media. They should have exercised more restraint. There should have been a media blackout or a delay in the live broadcast. It was reported that Mendoza was able to monitor what was happening on TV inside the bus.
The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility in the Philippines has guidelines on their Web site regarding how media should behave during a situation like this. These include provisions on live coverage as the situation unfolds, not getting involved in the action and refraining from inflammatory language, to name a few.
These guidelines were ignored. We saw everything unfold, scene by scene.
One journalist reportedly helped with the negotiations. He probably thought he could bring his mojo to make everything better or at least to increase his fame.
Viewed from afar, we can only imagine what the live commentary was like — a whole lot of speculation disguised as intelligent analysis. Case in point: A friend on Twitter said that one local channel described how Mendoza's brains were scattered all over the floor. Was that observation relevant? Or was the reporter just groping for words to fill the air with verbal diarrhea?
The police. They were ill-prepared. They did not have the necessary equipment and were not wearing protective gear. They were unable to institute some sort of procedure to keep the media and the citizens out of the way while doing their job.
Only after gunshots were heard from within the bus did the police attempt to hack open the windows of the bus, which only resulted — it seemed — in further enraging the hostage-taker.
And the situation lasted for 12 hours! How something can last that long and still end with people dead is mind-boggling. Which only goes to show that the negotiations did not go well, to put it mildly.
The cherry on top goes to Mendoza, the person who caused the whole drama. Mendoza was a former police officer, a decorated one at that, having once been named one of the Ten Outstanding Policemen of the Philippines and being given no less than 17 other recognitions for his service before he was cashiered over a misconduct charge that apparently set off his rampage.
The government. While the hostage situation was ongoing and leading newscasts around the world, the central government did little. Instead, viewers were regaled by former actor and now Manila vice mayor, Isko Moreno, who gave an incoherent interview in English to CNN. He basically wasn't clear on what happened with the negotiations, but here he was, positing his views on the matter, live.
The people. Bystanders in the vicinity were milling around, despite being fully aware of the gravity of the situation. They did not stand back and let the police do their job. One person was reportedly hit by a stray bullet, yet others have the gall to blame it all on the police.
When the hostage crisis came to its bloody finale, the onlookers jumped into the fray and crowded around the bus. Some were even taking photos! They should have cleared the area and let the poor hostages be taken out of the bus and into the ambulances.
Even the driver added to the mayhem when he saved himself, climbed out of the bus and reported that everyone else was dead, thus adding to the panic.
The aftermath. In the end, it was sad day for my country because we have once again starred in a laughable parody of how we work out our problems on live TV for the whole world to see.
Even sadder is the broaching of the idea that somehow, Maria Venus Raj, who competed in the Miss Universe pageant in Las Vegas on Tuesday, would help improve the sorry reputation of the Philippines after the latest mess. Raj was a trending topic on Twitter side by side with the hostage situation. No offense, but like a beauty title can save everything. Beauty conquers all? How simplistic!
The clincher? In the end, I guess we are all at fault. Because each of us have in our own little way contributed to how things are in our country. With our apathy. With our looking out only for ourselves, our families and our friends and not caring while others suffer. All of us are guilty in one way or another.
We need discipline. We need restraint. We need to follow the laws. Things are messed up, but we shouldn't give up. We have already taken a step in the right direction by exercising our right to vote this year even if it meant we had to sacrifice our personal comfort by registering and lining up for hours.
But most of all, we need to put a stop to our sense of entitlement, the idea that we deserve better even though we don't help to make things better. It is this attitude that is little by little sinking the Philippines into the depths of despair.
Amee R. Enriquez, a Filipino, is an editor with the Jakarta Globe.