Palace: No basis for Lim's Luneta neglect
MANILA, Philippines – Mayor Alfredo Lim, who is seeking re-election in Manila, said there was no way he could be liable for the mishandling of the August 2010 Luneta hostage-taking crisis that left 8 Hong Kong tourists and the hostage-taker dead.
In a document provided to Rappler by Lim’s office, signed by Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa Jr, Lim was cleared of all liability by the Office of the President.
Lim was reacting to Rappler's story, exposing then Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo's recommendation to President Benigno Aquino III that he (Lim) be suspended for a month for simple neglect of duty.
The Palace, however, set aside the May 2012 recommendation, and Robredo died 3 months later in a plane crash off Masbate.
According to Ochoa, Robredo's recommendation was "without basis." Rappler has been trying to get in touch with Ochoa but he has not responded as of posting.
Robredo considered it neglect of duty that Lim did not convene the city government's crisis management committee (CMC) and was dining out at a most crucial point during the negotiations. Ochoa countered this, saying that by merely sending word to the city police chief to cordon off the hostage-taking area, Lim had, in fact, technically convened the committee.
Robredo's recommendation -- he had drafted the directive for the President to sign -- was the second made against Lim. Before that, the Incident Investigation and Review Committee (IIRC), a panel led by the justice secretary and which also included Robredo, came up with an 82-page report.
The panel found Lim, then Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno, and then National Police Director General Jesus Verzosa with administrative and criminal culpability. The President cleared Puno and Verzosa, but permitted the filing of administrative charges against Lim for “misconduct and simple neglect.”
Robredo investigated Lim and found the Manila mayor administratively liable for the August 23, 2010 hostage crisis. The memorandum was issued on May 9, 2012, and forwarded to Malacañang on May 12.
“There was an investigation,” Lim said in Filipino. “I think I appeared at the DILG for this administrative case. It’s true, there was a recommendation and that recommendation was forwarded to Malacañang. Malacañang decided on it under (Executive) Secretary Ochoa to reverse the decision of Secretary Robredo to dismiss the case against me.”
The document, issued by the Office of the President on June 17, 2012, dismissed Robredo’s recommendation for lack of merit, arguing, “no penalty can be imposed against Mayor Lim.”
In the Office of the President DC Case No. 12-F036, charges of simple neglect were limited to two acts. The first was the mayor’s alleged failure to convene the local CMC. The second was “his leaving the Philippine National Police (PNP) Command Post during the height of the hostage-taking incident."
Panel: Lim failed to convene CMC
On Lim’s alleged failure to convene the CMC, the IIRC report points to Lim as the designated chairperson of the CMC, who “should have ensured that the components of the CMC were actually in-place.”
“Mayor Lim of the City of Manila failed in the performance of his mandate to form or convene the CMC in accordance with the said cited law and Executive Orders.”
Lim told Rappler that he was in a meeting with his department heads when he was told that a crisis was developing in Manila.
“At about 10 am,” he said, “General Gutierrez, the Deputy Chief, who was also attending the meeting, approached my chair. He said there was a hostage situation in Luneta and that there were tourists being held hostage. Lim asked for the whereabouts of Manila Police District Chief Rolando Magtibay. He was told Magtibay was already on the scene. Lim told Gutierrez, then a colonel, to go to Magtibay.
“I said, ‘Tell him no one is allowed to intervene in the hostage negotiations.’ I even added, ‘Not even media.’ Those were my standing instructions. That was at 10 am.”
The IIRC said that beyond this message to Magtibay, the ground commander, who “merely assumed the formation of the CMC,” there was no designation of point persons, and “no other indication in the records or testimonies of the convening of the CMC.”
Lim told Rappler that Magtibay himself took on the responsibility. “It is why, when the question of who was responsible was asked, in front of media, in front of TV and print media, he (Magtibay) said he was the one responsible for what happened. I was surprised that several weeks later, I was the one being blamed.”
Magtibay later claimed during a joint hearing by the Senate committees on public order and on justice that it was Lim who was in charge of the hostage situation.
The IIRC added that it was “of major significance” that 3 major sub-groups of the CMC were not created—the Intelligence sub-group, the psychologist to support the negotiating team, and public affairs to control and brief media.
Ochoa: Lim convened CMC, implicitly
However, the Ochoa's decision from the Office of the President claimed Lim was, in fact, able to convene the CMC.
“It is quite clear that Mayor Lim was not negligent in dealing with the hostage situation." Lim, said Ochoa, had in fact convened the CMC simply by sending word to Magtibay to cordon off the area and isolate it from the media.
“Such acts already constituted an implied convention of the CMC,” says Ochoa. “It can be deduced…that the CMC was indeed convened by Mayor Lim.”
Ochoa even lauded Lim’s performance, adding that “Mayor Lim went the extra mile,” noting that Lim also called for mobile medical teams and the fire department, as well as instructed all departmental heads to be ready should their services be necessary.
The second charge against Lim is described by the IIRC as abandoning the command post “at the most crucial moment of the hostage-taking crisis.”
“Everything that Mayor Lim and General Magtibay hoped to accomplish at Emerald Restaurant, including taking a meal, could have been accomplished at the Advance Command Post and even better because they would have been in a position to react to events promptly.”
Lim left to eat at the nearby Emerald Restaurant at 6:45 in the evening, saying he had missed lunch. The negotiation was on its 8th hour, and Lim had just given orders to arrest the hostage-taker’s brother Gregorio Mendoza. Lim had told Magtibay he had missed lunch, and intended to eat at Emerald Restaurant.
“I told Magtibay, ‘If you want, you can follow me.’ I left.”
Gregorio resisted arrest, and ran screaming to the media that he was about to be killed. Mendoza witnessed the chaos on television inside the bus, and began shooting hostages.
“When the commotion happened,” Lim told Rappler, “I didn’t know about it. I only found out when I was in Emerald because Magtibay followed me and reported it. By then I had already ordered food.”
The report called Lim’s leaving “the height of irresponsibility,” adding that the explanation “he was hungry and nothing was happening yet” was a “lame justification.”
The IIRC also said Lim had, in effect, moved the command post, having brought with him the ground commander “all in gross disregard of the increasing volatility of the situation and the vital need to maintain close contact, coordination and supervision at the ground level to ensure swift reaction in case of adverse turn of events and secure the safety of hostages.”
Not the same
Ochoa said no abandonment occurred during the crisis.
Although Lim was charged for leaving “the Philippine National Police (PNP) Command Post during the height of the hostage-taking incident,” Ochoa explained that there are two “geographically and legally distinct locations” in any crisis situation.
The first is the Crisis Management Operations Center or CMOC, “established at the appropriate PNP Headquarters Operation Center where a crisis occurs,” defined by the Ochoa report as “in the PNP Headquarters in Manila.”
The second distinct location is the On Scene Command Post, or OSCP, “established in the vicinity of the crisis incident site.” Ochoa defines this second location as “relatively near the bus itself.”
The CMC Manual of 2000 requires that “the CMC members shall be at the CMOC while the crisis incident is in progress.”
Ochoa conceded that CMC members are required to remain at the CMOC, but said there is no equivalent requirement that members of the CMC are supposed to remain in the OSCP—the vicinity of the bus.
“The important question,” said Ochoa in the decision, “is whether the place Mayor Lim left during the crisis was the Crisis Management Operations Center (CMOC) or the On the Scene Command Post (OSCP).”
Ochoa said “there seems to be a misapprehension of the facts that led to the mistaken conclusion that Mayor Lim left the CMOC for the restaurant. This is wrong. What he and General Magtibay departed from was the OSCP, the place relatively near the vicinity of the bus.”
Ochoa concluded that Lim did not leave the command post.
“Since there is no law requiring him to be physically present at the OSCP for the entirety of the crisis, then his departure constituted no violation of the CMC Manual.”
That Lim was, in fact, at the Emerald Restaurant, also implies he was not at the CMOC.
If anybody had to be blamed for negligence, it should be the police officers, not him, said Lim, himself a former cop.
“This can be attributed to negligence on the part of police officers,” Lim told Rappler.
Besides, he said, he learned in training with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the US that mayors like him aren't supposed to intervene in hostage negotiations.
“Because in a hostage negotiation the mayor cannot intervene. The whole ball game is under the supervision of the police officers.”
Lim said he was one of several who participated in a month-long FBI on hostage negotiations. “Stay-in kami sa FBI academy,” he added.
Lim, an ally of the Aquino family, is now running in a tight race against former president Joseph Estrada for the mayoralty of Manila. - Rappler.com