Lim liable for Luneta bloodbath – Robredo report

Aries C. Rufo

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Malacañang, however, set aside the recommendation to suspend for one month President Aquino's family friend and party mate

BLOODBATH. The Luneta hostage crisis in 2010 killed 8 Hong Kong tourists and the Filipino hostage taker. Photo by Vincent Go

MANILA, Philippines – In the aftermath of the Rizal Park hostage-taking incident on August 23, 2010, Malacañang set aside the interior secretary’s recommendation to suspend Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim for “simple neglect of duty.”

The hostage crisis led to the death of 8 tourists from Hong Kong and the hostage taker, a dismissed Manila cop.

Documents provided to Rappler by Lim’s political rivals showed that then Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo found Lim administratively liable for the mishandling of the situation that strained relations between Manila and Beijing.

In a memorandum issued on May 9, 2012 – almost 2 years after the incident – Robredo recommended to the Office of the President a one-month suspension for Lim.

“After evaluation of the entire case records, this Department finds respondent (Lim) administratively liable for simple neglect of duty and recommends imposing upon him the penalty of one month suspension.

“For the consideration and signature of His Excellency is a draft decision finding respondent mayor Alfredo Lim of the City of Manila administratively liable for simple neglect of duty with the imposed penalty of one month suspension,” Robredo’s memorandum said.

Records showed the memorandum was sent to Malacañang on May 11, 2012.

President Benigno Aquino III, a longtime family friend and political ally of Lim, sat on the recommendation.

Three months later, Robredo died in a plane crash.

Selective action

The President’s inaction on Lim’s case was a stark contrast with his swift decision in December 2012 to suspend Cebu Gov Gwendolyn Garcia for 6 months on the basis of an administrative case filed by the late Cebu Vice Gov Greg Sanchez Jr.

Garcia, who is allied with the opposition, was found guilty of grave abuse of authority for transferring funds from the vice governor’s office to the governor’s office to pay for consultants.

Recoiling from criticism that Garcia’s suspension was politically-motivated, the Palace insisted that it was Robredo who had recommended her suspension, although it could not provide proof that the late secrecretary indeed made such recommendation.

Lim, on the other hand, is slugging it out with former President Joseph Estrada for the Manila mayoral post.

President Aquino is endorsing Lim for the post. They are both with the Liberal Party (LP).

Roxas unaware

We sought an interview with Lim last month regarding this information, but his staff referred us to the city administrator and legal officer.

In an interview last March, Manila city legal officer Renato dela Cruz told Rappler that the case of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) against Lim had already been dismissed.

He, however, could not show the supposed DILG resolution favoring his boss.

The DILG under Robredo initiated the probe on Lim’s possible liability based on the report of a committee led by the justice secretary which had already found Lim liable. 

Lim sought to dismiss the case against him, blaming police officials instead. He told the DILG that it was “beyond his power and authority to intervene or countermand any operational decisions that the ground commander made.”

Reviewing claims by all parties involved in the operation to end the hostage crisis, Robredo concluded that Lim should be suspended.

Rappler asked Interior Secretary and LP president-on-leave Mar Roxas if he’s aware of the results of a DILG probe on Lim. In an SMS reply last month, he said the case was no longer with the DILG docket when he assumed office in October last year.

“I recall that this was during Secretary Robredo’s time and he already forwarded his recommendation to Malacañang,” Roxas said.

Favored local official

Aquino’s failure to implement the suspension on Lim is not surprising. He had indicated several times that he was not inclined to blame Lim and two other close allies for the Luneta bloodbath.

In a report last year, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism related an anecdote where Aquino, commenting on the 82-page report of the Incident Investigation and Review Committee (IIRC), reportedly said: “ It is too strongly worded. Why are we implicating Puno, Lim, and Verzosa?”

He was referring to then Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno and then National Police Director General Jesus Verzosa. (Puno has since resigned, while Verzosa has since retired).

The IIRC found the 3 liable for administrative and criminal culpability for mishandling the hostage crisis staged by Police Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza, but Aquino quickly cleared Puno and Verzosa.

As for Lim, the President only approved the filing of administrative charges for “misconduct and simple neglect,” thus the new round of investigations done by Robredo.

Summary execution

In its findings, the IIRC concluded that Lim “failed to observe the appropriate degree of attention required by the gravity and highly-volatile nature of the crisis…evincing gross failure to accord due importance to his role and responsibilities as head of the CMC (Crisis Management Committee) in addressing the crisis.”

The IIRC also concluded that when Lim instructed Manila police to bring the hostage-taker’s brother to Tondo, it was tantamount to ordering the latter’s summary execution. Tondo was a euphemism for a dumping place for dead bodies.

In August 2010, Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza, frustrated over what he said was his unfair dismissal from the Manila Police service, took over a tourist bus that was carrying 21 Hong Kong tourists, 2 Chinese tourist guides, and a Filipino driver at the Luneta Park.

Mendoza, who had been recognized many times in service for his bravery and honor, was demanding that he be reinstated. He claimed that the extortion complaint that became the basis for this dismissal was a setup. The Ombudsman later that day sent a letter, refusing to reinstate him but promising to review his case.

Rolando’s brother, SPO2 Gregorio Mendoza, went to the scene to convince him to surrender, but Lim ordered Gregorio arrested, allegedly because he was not authorized to join the negotiations.

The hostage-taker, monitoring everything from the on-board TV that was broadcasting live, saw the cops manhandling his brother and heard Lim’s implied order to finish him off. This agitated Rolando Mendoza, and that incident proved to be “tipping point in the violent and tragic ending of the crisis,” the IIRC said.

‘Height of irresponsibility’

The IIRC also found that Lim stalled an early resolution of the hostage crisis when he opposed the provisional reinstatement of the hostage-taker to the police force.

Then there was a most crucial moment when Lim abandoned the command post and invited the ground commander, Manila Police District chief Rolando Magtibay, for a snack at the Emerald Restaurant.

“It was the height of irresponsibility for the chairman of the CMC (Lim) to abandon the command post and take along with him the ground commander to Emerald Restaurant on the lame justification that he was hungry and nothing was happening yet.

“At that time, the protracted 8-hour negotiation had already collapsed after the hostage-taker rejected the Ombudsman letter and resorted to hostile action by firing his gun, indicating a highly-agitated mental state and obviously warranting close attention and immediate measures to prevent further deterioration of the situation,” the IIRC said.

The hostage-taking incident angered Chinese authorities and a separate probe by Hong Kong government concluded that the hostages were “unlawfully killed” and blamed the incompetence of Philippine authorities as a direct cause of the deaths.

Administrative charges had been filed against 5 police officers in connection with the bungled rescue operation. –  

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