Initial comments on the IIRC report on the August 23 hostage crisis

Posted: September 20, 2010 in Socio-Political
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The downloadable report is incomplete as Malacanang refuses to release the recommendations of the IIRC. President Aquino has officially stated that the recommendations will only be released after he and his legal team study these when he gets back from the US. However, we find no serious reason why the recommendations be withheld at this point, after Aquino himself has identified the persons and entities that should be held liable for the tragic events of August 23. Why hide the recommendations now? To manage the negative news that may arise during Aquino’s US trip? Aside from the findings of fact, the recommendations form the most important part of the report.

The report appears thorough in the gathering of facts and in reconstructing the events of August 23. The timeline and the critical incidents were presented with great detail.

The report is a damning assessment of the readiness of government in dealing with hostage situations. There was apparent failure from the moment the government failed to constitute a proper Crisis Management Committee, the necessary sub-committees including intelligence and psychology and when it failed to deploy the capable elements of the PNP that can effectively respond to the crisis. The report makes the Philippine government, not just the City of Manila, look like a bunch of amateurs.

President Aquino has identified several police and local government officials and media entities as being liable for the tragic incident in Luneta. The report tends to support this through its narration of facts and analysis. However, absent the actual recommendations of the report, we can only speculate on the exact liability of these officials. We can see from the report that Mayor Lim may have been liable for failing to properly convene the Crisis Management Committee. The PNP were likely liable for their failure to “carry out the orders of the president” to deploy the SAF. Some members of the media may be liable because of their intervention in the hostage negotiations.

The report stops short of establishing any liability for members of Aquino’s government, and even Aquino himself. While the IIRC previously said that Aquino himself could be covered by the investigation, there appears to be no real effort in determining the president and his cabinet’s liability in the August 23 incident.

For me, the most interesting part of the report appears on page 52, a section called National or Local Crisis. It says:

The authorities considered the crisis a local crisis and therefore handled by the local CMC of Manila. The basic parameter being that the locality where the crisis is occurring will determine which CMC has jurisdiction. Thus, the crisis was handled by Mayor Lim as the Chairperson of the Manila CMC. It appeared that at no point was the elevation to the status as a national crisis considered even while practically all the hostages were foreign nationals and even while representatives from foreign embassies or consular offices were already involved.

 

The Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) on Crisis Situations does not have clear parameters on when, or under what circumstances, should a crisis be elevated to national status.

 

It is also not clear as to which agency, or who in the bureaucracy, will initiate the elevation of the crisis to national status. Will it be by endorsement or initiative of the local CMC or will the elevation be through a take over process initiated by the national agency concerned?

 

It is also not clear on what is the scope of the authority of the CMC. Is it advisory or does it make a decision based on consensus of the members of the CMC which decision is then to be implemented by the Ground Commander?

The above-mentioned section appears to absolve Malacanang of any direct liability simply because of the absence of clear parameters on when a crisis is elevated from local to national status. It is a weak statement on the liability of the national government. Yet the report implies that the crisis may have already had a national character the moment it was determined that foreign nationals were being held hostage. The absence of “clear parameters” appears to be a convenient firewall for Aquino and his cabinet, a reality they can invoke when they explain why there was no immediate and resolute national intervention in the crisis from the onset. However, even for the sake of argument that there are no “clear parameters”, it is widely believed that Malacanang should have intervened at the earliest possible time.

The report does not clarify what the role of the DILG should have been in the crisis, other than Usec. Puno being the eyes and ears of Malacanang. Puno himself has said he treated the hostage-taking as a ‘local crisis.  Again this omission in the report may be an offshoot of the “no clear parameters” alibi in determining whether a crisis is local or national. Be that as it may, one cannot help but speculate that this omission may be due to the DILG secretary being the vice-chair of the IIRC.

Merceditas Gutierrez and her subordinates were summoned by the IIRC but refused to cooperate and face the hearings and instead invoked their ‘independence’ as an institution. That is the funniest part of the report. Independence is hardly a trademark of this Ombudsman, neither is accountability.

The report says that President Aquino ordered the deployment of the PNP’s SAF as the primary option for the assault. This order was apparently disregarded by MPD’s Gen. Magtibay. The question we should raise is if the mere act of ordering the deployment of the SAF was the most Aquino could do at the time. And when there was “insubordination” on the part of Magtibay, was there nothing else Malacanang and its agencies could do? Hanggang dun na lang ba ang magagawa ni P-Noy? Magtibay was relieved of operational command only midway during the assault, when it was already painfully clear that the SWAT assault was going nowhere. Could things have been handled differently? Would early Palace intervention and assertion in the deployment of the SAF change the outcome?

The release of the recommendations of the IIRC is crucial if we really want closure on this issue. A lot more questions need to be answered, particularly on the role of Malacanang and the DILG.###

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