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Report limits blame over Manila hostage crisis

By JIM GOMEZ

Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 07:45 a.m. HST, Sep 22, 2010



MANILA, Philippines — Only one of eight government and police officials blamed for last month's bungled hostage rescue in Manila that left eight Hong Kong tourists dead should face criminal charges, according to a government report seen Wednesday by The Associated Press.

Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim should immediately face administrative and criminal complaints for alleged blunders that caused the daylong hostage standoff on Aug. 23 to degenerate into a bloody end, said a report by a fact-finding committee. Seven other officials should not face charges unless a future investigation substantiates them.

President Benigno Aquino III told reporters in New York, where he is on an official visit, that he did not want criminal complaints filed without certainty the cases were merited. "You do not unnecessarily prosecute people, if it's not warranted," he said.

Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno, the highest official blamed for the botched rescue, offered to resign Wednesday.

Puno, who helped oversee the blunder-ridden rescue, said he will submit his resignation letter when Aquino returns next week.

"If I'll be a burden to the president, I'm willing to resign," Puno told a news conference.

The bungled rescue attempt left eight Hong Kong tourists and the lone hostage-taker — dismissed police officer Rolando Mendoza — dead on a bus parked at a historic Manila park in a standoff watched by millions on live TV.

The incident damaged ties with China and Hong Kong, which warned against travel to the Philippines, prompting thousands of tourists to cancel bookings.

It sparked Aquino's first major crisis, less than two months into his presidency.

Aquino on Monday ordered a fact-finding report to be released to China and the public, but withheld release of a crucial section — seen Wednesday by AP — that placed much of that blame on Lim and Manila Police Chief Rodolfo Magtibay, saying they had failed to perform their roles in overseeing the crisis.

Among other lapses, Lim and Magtibay left the scene for a restaurant before the hostage-taker started shooting the hostages. Magtibay allegedly defied Aquino's order to deploy an elite police commando team but instead used a local SWAT team, the report said.

The report lamented a plethora of errors that "conspired to produce the tipping point."

It was not immediately clear why charges were not recommended against Magtibay. He was replaced by another officer during the standoff and subsequently lost his job as police chief.

Lim, himself a former Manila police chief, has angrily denied the allegations. On the verge of tears, he defended himself and the police in front of TV cameras, reminding the public of the risk that law enforcement officers face while in the line of duty.

Two radio journalists accused of tying up the hostage-taker's telephone line by interviewing him during the standoff may face complaints for not adhering to ethical rules in covering the crisis, the report said. The radio station's manager and staff may also face complaints, as could the country's three major TV networks, which aired the crisis live.

The fact-finding committee recommended further investigation to determine whether an impeachment complaint should be filed against the government ombudsman for allegedly failing to speedily resolve a criminal case which led to Mendoza's dismissal from the police force. Mendoza had said he took hostages to draw attention to his case.

All eight hostages were killed by Mendoza, the report said, noting that more tests were needed to verify if police gunfire hit some of the victims. Another seven Hong Kongers were wounded.

___

Associated Press Writer Oliver Teves contributed to this report.






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