TO WHOM DOES IT REPORT?

Posted: September 21, 2010 in Media, Politics

I will not speak as if I am an expert or professional analyst. I just want to express my own, personal views on the INCIDENT INVESTIGATION and REVIEW COMMITTEE on the August, 23, 2010 Rizal Park Hostage-taking Incident (IIRC Report) provided by the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) special body.

The First Report of the Luneta Hostage-Taking Incident is commendable. It affirms President Aquino’s pledge of accountability and transparency to the Filipino people. The body drafted and finished the Report very fast and it seems that they know what they are doing. However, the report’s tenor appears that it writes for China and not to seek the truth and shed light on the matter. It starts with the chronological account of what transpired from as early as 6 a.m until the assault’s end at around 9 p.m. It reconstructs the story primarily from first-hand testimonies of the freed and survived hostages, police officers involved, negotiators, “accessories” to the crime, media and even from the bystanders in Quirino Grandstand. It also includes medical, forensic and (initial) ballistic reports and analyses. The Report points the finger of blame, obviously to the Philippine National Police (PNP) through one of the Report’s highlights, the so-called Critical Incidents. This part tackles the lapses and inactions on the side of the authorities or the potentially “make-or-break” situations for the authorities and the Hostage Taker. The first Critical Incident is the lost of chain of command and clear delegations of task which led to the inability to establish a Crisis Management Group (CMC), according to the Crisis Manual and Protocol, it is the City Mayor (Mayor Alfredo Lim) who has the authority to establish such. Under CMC were sub-groups that could have been very useful and at times critical to the negotiation’s success such as a psychologist. Second is the misunderstanding and underestimation of the Hostage Taker’s demands, thus the negotiators’ moves were flawed and at the disadvantage of the hostages’ safety. They did not feel that base on the negotiators’ assurances of positive result in accordance to his demands and not to mention phone conversations between the Hostage Taker and the DOJ Sec., Ombudsman the police officers on ground, the Hostage Taker’s expectation level goes up. In relation to the second, third are the unfruitful tools of negotiation that only trigger the Hostage Taker’s anger such as the “Motion to Review” instead of an “Order of Reinstallation” following from the presumption that due to their assurances and many options opened to the Hostage Taker, the latter’s expectations rises up. Due to this, the huge possibilities of peaceful break down that even the alternatives opened up were rejected. Fourth was “(t)he acts, omissions and reaction, of the authorities concerned with resolving the crisis situation, to the initial breakdown”. The loss of the handlers’ focus on the main incident due to Gregorio (Hostage Taker’s brother) is evident. The Report said that the brother could have been a very powerful instrument to salvage the tearing down negotiation and revive the trust of the Hostage Taker. The fruit of the Fourth is the Fifth which is the arrest of Gregorio as ordered by Mayor Lim that led the Hostage Taker to shoot the hostages. The Sixth is “(t)he departure of Mayor Lim and General Magtibay from the Advance Command Post at a crucial time. It is caused by “error in judgement” and paralyses the existing operation. Anything planned to be done in a restaurant could be done better in the Command Post. Lastly, the Eight Critical Incident is (t)he absence of an organized Post Assault Plan”. Having this could make rescue of hostages easier, securing the area better to avoid further harm and recover of the scene of investigation more efficiently. The lost of command is proven when no point person/office is tasked/directed to collect the crime evidences. There was no crowd control also that resulted to media riding inside the ambulances just to have footage and a bystander injured from the Hostage Taker’s stray bullet. The crux of the issue boils down to the lack of training, equipment and readiness of the PNP. The Report continues on the media’s coverage, salient points are raised including coverage having gone over board as evident is the “showing of tactical or strategic footages”, the coverage of Hostage Taker’s brother’s arrest, the live interview with the Hostage Taker over Radio Mindanao Network (RMN) station DZXL with Michael Rogas as anchorman.

Indeed there are no statutes that prohibit media to cover in such “news worthy” stories because the People are guaranteed of the freedom to know and the media have autonomy and self-regulation. However, when innocent lives are at stake and national interest is at risk, the media personnel must know, like how they know where their elbows are no matter how irregularly seen, how to self-regulate and where to balance ethics, business and competition. The Report added that ”(e)thical rules and regulations governing journalist covering a crisis situation, locally and internationally, vary in the manner they are phrased, but the essence of the ethical rules and considerations are the same”. These operational rules and code of ethics must work in actuality beyond its pedestal as texts. In the Quirino Grandstand hostage-taking, it is evident that media failed to do so. Yes, there is no innocent world out there, but there is no guilty world out there too, unless we make the former an excuse. The assessment part of the Report ended criticizing the media’s unethical coverage (especially RMN) that compromises the negotiators’ chance to appeal to the Hostage Taker.

After reading the First Report, I know that it is not half-baked. It presents the facts chronologically and logically. It removes my prior notion that it is written for China. It is still somehow written for the very institutions that either holds or maintains the current social order. It is also a good reminder for the future policemen and media practitioners. I will however read the assessment for media for the second time and hopefully make a “Second Report” on the First Report.

Again, this is not an expert’s view of the matter. There are just personal opinions with their own biases. After all, after things have been said, we must all go back to the very fact that the Report should not be a trophy for the authorities or the President, neither a “graphic” fictional story for an ordinary reader. This Report should be a compelling reason for everyone to end the culture of being “reactive” and start being “proactive”.

Full text can be downloaded at http://www.gov.ph/2010/09/17/first-report-of-the-iirc-on-the-rizal-park-hostage-taking-incident/

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