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Manila officials, police face hostage crisis raps

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine justice secretary said Thursday she will recommend criminal and administrative charges against about 10 officials, police officers and journalists over the deaths of eight Hong Kong tourists last month in a botched hostage rescue that outraged China.

Leila de Lima said she will submit a report on Friday to President Benigno Aquino III with the names of those to be charged, details of the charges, and other information about the Aug. 23 standoff in which the hostage-taker, a fired policeman, also died.

Security forces bungled the standoff, while millions watched on live TV, straining the Philippines’ ties with China and the Chinese territory of Hong Kong. It delivered Aquino’s first major crisis less than two months into his presidency and highlighted problems within the country’s underfunded police force and his new Cabinet.

De Lima previously said that preliminary ballistics reports indicated that some hostages may have been hit by "friendly fire" from security forces during the rescue.

She said Thursday that the report’s findings, based on survivor accounts, will indicate that the hostages were killed by the hostage-taker but added that those findings were not yet complete.

"What we are really scrutinizing now — because the ballistics are incomplete — is if there are stray bullets from the assault team" which hit the hostages, she said, adding the investigation has yet to account for "a few more bullet holes."

De Lima headed a fact-finding committee appointed by Aquino as his administration scrambled to contain the fallout from the crisis.

The officials to be charged "are high enough" and will include police officers and journalists who covered the standoff, De Lima said.

Two radio journalists were castigated by a committee member during the investigation for monopolizing the telephone connection to the hostage taker. Committee member Teresita Ang See said the journalists may have violated a broadcasting guideline not to hamper hostage negotiations.

The justice secretary gave no details about the proposed charges, but said the recommendations are "based on the evaluation of the actions, the non-action, the missteps, the lapses, the negligence, the incompetence" of the people involved.

Aquino has issued apologies over the deaths and said last week that he will now focus on easing tensions with China and Hong Kong, which has issued an advisory discouraging travel to the Philippines.

He has promised to send a delegation led by Vice President Jejomar Binay to deliver the final investigation report to officials in Beijing and Hong Kong.

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