ZAMBOANGA SIBUGAY, Philippines – At least 10 police officers, including members of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team, are facing investigation for allegedly breaching protocols during a hostage crisis in Ipil town on Monday, May 23.
But the police officers were also reaping praises for quickly rescuing a woman, identified as Irene Leyson, from a hostage taker, and killing the suspect with a single shot.
A sniper’s bullet killed Eduardo Pihana Andres who had taken the office secretary of an insurance company hostage at gunpoint in the town center of Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay past noon on Monday.
While the police team quickly ended the hostage crisis and saved the woman, questions hounded the officers after a video of the incident went viral on social media.
The video showed it was a close call – a SWAT member took the shot from a distance while an agitated Andres, who had a pistol, was using Leyson as a human shield.
Colonel Albert Larubis, police director for Zamboanga Sibugay, said a “fair and speedy investigation” by the Zamboanga Sibugay Provincial Police Office (ZSPPO) was underway.
Based on the video, it appeared that police operational procedures in handling the hostage crisis were not followed.
The video showed Leyson dashing to safety as soon as Andres lost his grip and fell back when a single shot rang out.
The hostage taker was shot in the head while he was using Leyson as cover, and died on the spot.
Larubis said the suspect, a resident of Barangay Lubok in Tungawan town, Zamboanga Sibugay, dragged the hostage from her office at gunpoint toward the commercial stalls across the road.
The suspect’s brother told Rappler that Andres had a problem and had fallen into depression.
One of Leyson’s co-workers said Andres alighted from a tricycle at around 12:45 pm and asked for help because someone was going after him, and wanted to kill him.
The worker said Andres grabbed Leyson and held her hostage when she tried to shut the door on him.
The responding police team under Major Xyronne Caronan, chief of the Ipil Municipal Police Station, wasted no time as they took down Andres while the suspect was restraining Leyson, and threatening to shoot her.
Witnesses said the sniper fired the shot with precision and just in time but still, the bullet could have hit the hostage if the police miscalculated.
The video also showed there was no negotiation prior to the shooting.
Larubis said the police operational procedures only allow the use of firearms if the “offender poses an imminent danger of causing death or injury to the police officer or other persons.”
Police said the protocols also include securing the crime scene to keep people away.
Larubis, however, pointed out that the actions of the responding team saved Leyson.
In a statement, the provincial police office said, “We believe that the actions of the responding team were another life-saving operation.”
It noted that Andres was armed and posed serious and imminent dangers to Leyson and the responding officers, prompting one of the policemen to shoot him.
“Still, the ZSPPO will conduct an investigation to determine if the responding team followed the protocols or not,” Larubis said. – Rappler.com
Antonio Manaytay is a Mindanao-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship