MANILA, Philippines (AP) – A dismissed policeman armed with an automatic rifle seized a bus in the Philippine capital Monday with 24 passengers, most of them Hong Kong tourists, in a bid to demand his reinstatement, police said.
Seven hostages, including three children, were subsequently released unharmed. A senior Chinese diplomat who was monitoring the negotiations to free the remaining 17 hostages said they were "calm and peaceful."
"We want everything taken to secure the safety and security of our Chinese nationals," Bai Tian, deputy mission chief at the Chinese Embassy, told reporters.
Police sharpshooters took positions around the white-blue-red bus, which was parked near a downtown Manila park, as the talks progressed.
"He has released children, the elderly and the sick. He is showing signs of kindness and I think this will be resolved peacefully," said Fidel Posadas, police deputy director for operations.
The hostage-taker, identified as former Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza, 55, was armed with an M16 rifle. He demanded that he be given back his job on the police force a year after he was fired, Manila police chief Rodolfo Magtibay said.
Two of the Hong Kong tourists, both women, were the first to be released, followed by a girl, two boys and their mother as well as their Hong Kong guide, Magtibay said. A seventh hostage freed was suffering from diabetes, police said.
Hong Thai Travel Services Ltd. General Manager Susanna Lau told Hong Kong’s Cable TV that the bus was carrying a Hong Kong tour guide and 20 tourists – three children and 17 adults – and a local tour guide.
She said the group left the Chinese territory of Hong Kong on Aug. 20 for a visit to Manila and was scheduled to fly back to Hong Kong on Monday.
Magtibay said that three Filipinos – a driver, a guide and a photographer – also were on the bus.
Police brought in food for the hostages and prepared to provide fuel so that the air conditioning unit can keep running as the outside temperature reached about 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius).
Mendoza hitched a ride on the bus from the historic walled city of Intramuros and then "declared he is taking the passengers hostage" when the bus reached Jose Rizal Park alongside Manila Bay, Magtibay said.
The area also includes the seaside U.S. Embassy and a number of hotels.
The curtains on the bus windows were drawn and live TV footage showed two police negotiators walking to and from the bus and communicating with Mendoza from the window near the driver’s seat.
Magtibay said they were also using the driver’s cell phone to talk to Mendoza. A brother of Mendoza was helping police in the negotiations, Magtibay said.
"We should really resolve this quickly so that it will not have a wider effect," Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim said.
According to newspapers reports from 2008, Mendoza was among five police officers who had been charged with robbery, extortion and grave threats after a Manila hotel chef filed a complaint alleging the policemen falsely accused him of using drugs to extort money.
Mendoza’s younger brother, Gregorio, also a policeman, said that his brother felt that "injustice was done on him."
"He was disappointed that he did well in police service but was dismissed for a crime he did not do," he said.
In March 2007, not far from Monday’s hostage taking, a man took a busload of children and teachers hostage from his day-care center in Manila to denounce corruption. They were freed after a 10-hour standoff.
-Associated Press writers Teresa Cerojano and Min Lee in Hong Kong contributed to this report.