Today (August 25, 2010) has been declared as the “National Day of Mourning” for the victims of the August 23 Philippine Bus Siege… While the idea might have good intentions, it almost seems like a token effort and a moot point since the whole tragedy could have been avoided were it not for incomprehensible lapses of judgements which took place during the so-called negotiations.

It wasn’t like some random object (take your pick from the following: a gas bomb, missile, a giant rock, an airplane, a monster truck, or a space ship)  dropped from the sky and killed nine (9) people (8 innocent tourists from Hong Kong and the 1 hostage taker) and injured and most likely permanently traumatized seven (7) other HK tourists, and terrified the six (6) other tourists from Hong Kong who were released during the course of negotiations…

It was not like the incident was an “accident” or a force of nature like an earthquake or tsunami,which could not have been helped, and thus there is nothing than can be done except mourning and grieving the loss, and picking up the pieces.  It was not like a violent terrorist with home made bombs strapped on his body was trying to blow up the bus… but instead it was a disgruntled and troubled dismissed policeman’s desperate albeit imprudent call for help and attention.

Even it no one would be singing praises for Mendoza any time soon, it has to be said he assured the hostages at the onset that they would not be harmed, and was even persuaded during the course of the negotiations to release several hostages.

What is infinitely sad and frustrating about this incident is that… this whole incident was a product of a series of gross human errors.  Among other things that had woefully gone wrong,  the bloodshed could have been circumvented had they not agitated the hostage taker (Rolando Mendoza) by forcibly capturing his brother (Gregorio Mendoza) which appeared to have been the final straw to a state of mind which had already been stretched thin.  Whether the arrest of his brother did or did not have just cause, the timing was questionable since the hostage taker had been following the media coverage on the television in the bus.

It can be said, to say the least, that it was the height of hubris and the depths of poor judgement to provoke a distraught and emotional gunman by agitating or harming his family members.  This display of misplaced “bravado” of the “authorities” by perhaps taking their collective frustrations out on the brother of the hostage taker had an immediate and extremely detrimental effect to the situation, eventually costing many human lives.

These are real human lives, real bullets, and real guns… this is not a war game, a training simulation, or an action movie.  If the concern for the preservation of human lives had been kept at the fore, this would not have been the course of action taken.

Just because the bus driver, who could have or have not been colluding with the hostage taker, was conveniently able to escape with the aid of his trusty and magical nail cutter (nor nail clipper in some accounts), and started yelling that everyone has been killed… it does not mean that he should have been so easily believed by the so-called authorities who seemed to think that it was time to go for broke – arresting the brother and the family members of the gunman, and indiscriminately returning shots fired by an unstable gunman.

Has anyone not learned anything from “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”?  Hope and prudence should not have been so hastily abandoned based on words of a person who could have been under real or false duress… Hope and prudence should have been held for however long it was needed to have peacefully saved lives.

While it would have to be said that it was a fraught situation … with the hostage negotiations dragging on from 10am to the evening hours with heavy rain and considering that the people involved with making key decisions might have been drenched, testy, and even perhaps hungry, and impatient to go home… This sort of hasty display of what might have been collective frustration upon the brother of the gunman who happens to be a key figure in the situation is a huge mistake… and proved to be the catastrophic turning point resulting in what turned out to be a wretched international incident.

What is being focused upon repeatedly is the effect of the incident of tourism in the Philippines… While it is true that this incident might have an adverse effect on the ailing Philippine economy, the timing of this reflection of pragmatic self-absorption is in bad taste… especially when it comes before profuse apologies and deep shame.

A reflection of the severe lack of shame and lack of perception is the presence of the widely circulated photos of the police, SWAT team, and students in uniform with wide smiles having their photos taken in front of the scene of the bloodbath as though it was a tourist attraction… and being humiliatingly unaware that they are cheerfully celebrating or commemorating the scene of a national failure.  It should not need to be pointed out that sobriety, sorrow, and solemnity would have been appropriate at this point.

Human lives are not and should not be mere statistics serving the greater whole.  Each human life matters.  The collective outrage engendered by this botched incident is going to be cumulatively harmful as it sours personal human relations, aggravates ethnic tension, and fuels more misunderstandings, hatred and anger in the world – as if we did not already have enough of that.

As time travel is not an option to undo what has been produced by concerted incompetence, it cannot be said enough that agitating an already distressed person reflects poor decision making and is a very, very bad idea.  Human lives are paramount.

Would it have been too difficult for the gunman to have been given the few minutes of airtime he demanded in exchange for the survival of the innocent hostages?

Would it have been too difficult for his demands of being reinstated as a police officer after committing this crime, which would of course is not a product of a rationality, be tolerated and yielded to for the mean time, so that he would have been able to be talked down from the ledge and prevented from taking other lives together with his own?

Was a display of an aggravating misguided “tough guy” stance in trying to “show the gunman who is boss” by taking his brother and family members a warranted response, given the gravity of the situation?

Was everything humanly possible done to ensure the safety of the innocent lives at stake?

It should have, it could have… but unfortunately, it wasn’t… at the mortal peril of precious human lives.

(c) Niconica 2010

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