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Last Monday’s Manila Hostage Crisis was a possible act/effect of injustice

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Anger may be foolish and absurd, and one may be irritated when in the wrong; but a man never feels outraged unless in some respect he is at bottom right. –Victor Hugo–

In 1872, a secular priest who was about to be executed in the killing fields called Bagumbayan was literally crying out for justice against a mutiny which he did not instigate. One hundred thirty-eight years later, last Monday to be precise, in the very same place which we now call Rizal Park, another man, apparently another victim of injustice, was provoked to do the unthinkable, the inhumane, the insane. Unlike the secular priest, who took no lives with him and peacefully accepted his fate during the final minutes of his life, this man we speak of disrespected the lives of others out of sheer desperation. And in the aftermath, several Hong Kong nationals who visited our country for a vacation met a tragic end…

Mendoza (man on the steps of the bus) speaking to a negotiator. Many times he was seen at the entrance of the bus, in the line of fire, an easy target. But why, why, why wasn't he shot?

Yesterday, President Noynoy Aquino issued Proclamation No. 23 as a consequence of last Monday’s hostage-taking incident in the Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park, Manila. Eight Chinese tourists from Hong Kong were mercilessly executed while others were injured. The hostage taker himself, a deranged cop who lost his job, was killed rather belatedly.

Now that the smoke has been cleared, reports over what had transpired are also getting much clearer, as well as its damning effects: once more, public perception and trust over our police force worsened; our tourism industry is now in jeopardy, and; our country has garnered international embarassment.

The principal cause

The criminal who instigated all this polemic bloodbath was, ironically, a former high-ranking, highly decorated commissioned cop from Náic, Cavite whose name will forever be damned in the history of Philippine international relations.

Former Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza’s resumé is indeed a handsome one. With a degree in BS Criminology from the Philippine College of Criminology, he entered the police force through the defunct Integrated National Police in 1981 as a patrolman. When he was a 31-year-old officer in 1986, during the height of the EDSA Revolution, he and his men caught a van which was carrying 13 crates of filthy lucre which an exiting Ferdinand Marcos was purportedly trying to stash out of the country. This merited Mendoza a Ten Outstanding Policemen of the Philippines award from the Jaycees International later that year.

Aside from the TOPP prize, Mendoza received more than 10 other awards and commendations from the Philippine National Police (PNP) throughout his outstanding career, including multiple citations of the Medalya ng Papuri (PNP Medal of Commendation), the PNP Badge of Honor, the Medalya ng Kasanayan (PNP Efficiency Medal), Medalya ng Kagalingan (PNP Merit Medal), and the Medalya ng Paglilingkod (PNP Service Medal), as well as a Letter of Commendation.

A decade after entering the police force, he was absorbed into the PNP with the rank of Senior Police Officer 3 with “Manila’s finest”, the Western Police District (WPD, now known as the Manila Police District). In 2002, he was promoted to Inspector. And after only three years, he was made Senior Inspector as well as chief of the Mobile Patrol Unit.

But all these admirable accomplishments –very rare nowadays among policemen– vanished into thin air when, early this year, the Office of the Ombudsman expelled him and four of his colleagues from the police force. Worse, they were stripped of their retirement benefits (Mendoza was supposed to retire next year) and were barred from holding any position in government service.

This punishment stemmed from a case filed against him by a certain Christian Kálaw (interestingly, Kálaw is also the name of the street where the Manila Police District is based), a chef of the Mandarin Hotel. According to police records, Mendoza and the other policemen who were dismissed along with him accosted the chef for illegal parking, driving without license, and use of illegal drugs two summers ago in Malate, Manila. They accused Kálaw of being a drug user and tried to extort P3,000 from him. The records also showed that, at the headquarters of the Mobile Patrol Unit of the Manila Police District where the police brought Kálaw, the former manhandled the latter by forcing him to swallow a sachet full of crystal meth (commonly known as shabú in the Philippines). Furthermore, they tried to extort an additional P20,000 from the poor chef.

Several days later, administrative charges were filed against Mendoza and his men. Two months after the incident, there were plans of assigning Mendoza to faraway Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanáo but it never happened because he served a 90-day suspension instead. In August of that year, the Manila Prosecutors Office Eighth Division also dismissed the case after Kálaw failed to appear during the preliminary proceedings of the case. Two months after that, the PNP Internal Affairs Service recommended the dismissal of the case after Kálaw again failed to attend the dismissal proceedings. Regardless of the case’s dismissal and the 90-day suspension, Mendoza and his cohorts were all terminated from the police force.

Up to his very last breath two days ago, Mendoza denied the crime he reportedly committed against the Mandarin chef.

Metaphysics of the crime

This blogpost is not intended to defend Mendoza’s vile actions. It only seeks to understand why this shameful massacre occurred, and how it can be avoided in the future.

As we have observed by perusing Mendoza’s background as a police officer, it is safe to assume that he was a good cop, a clean one. That by turning over the stash of cash which he and his men confiscated from a Marcos van two decades ago, as well as his steady climb to his industry’s higher echelon, speaks of his dedication to his job. Notwithstanding all the accomplishments he garnered during his career, the probability of getting those awards through “police politics” is now immaterial, almost improbable even. The message here is clear: he got those awards because he was a straight cop. But the fruits (i.e., his retirement benefits) of his labors were all taken away from him by this one single incident over illegal parking, manhandling, and extortion. Was he even proven guilty? He cried foul, pointing at the unjust way he was expelled from service. He claimed that there was no due process over his expulsion. He even attempted to appeal his case, but nothing was heard about it.

Could it be true?

Let us examine further: Mendoza was the principal efficient cause of last Monday’s bus carnage in Rizal Park. But what was the final cause (or motivation) behind his seemingly “senseless” act? Speaking through the mass media (which also grossly erred in this hostage drama), he said that all he wanted was to get his job back, as well as his retirement benefits.

Mendoza was an angry old man. But looking through this anger and disorder, one can sense a bit of “logic” cloaked behind it. For if he was indeed guilty of this crime committed against Kálaw, he would not have held hostage innocent tourists enjoying the candy-wrapper-and-cigarrette-butt-strewn streets of Manila the way his co-accused remained silent (besides, Mendoza claimed that it was them who did it, not him — could that be a reason why they “did not lose their senses”?). The usual impulse for those whose arms are caught inside the cookie jar is to wallow in shame and guilt and silence. Mendoza didn’t. Out of desperation, he used “collateral damage” in crying out for justice in a country which seemed to have lack of it. Ask P-Noy himself.

It is easy to blame Mendoza for what had happened, for the happy lives he took, for the international shame he brought to P-Noy’s infant presidency. But what good will it do us? Besides, he’s about to join the earthworms. What should be reviewed now is if his claim of lack of due process on his case was true? Somehow, FILIPINO eSCRIBBLES is inclined to believe that he was a victim of injustice. And in a country lacking the caressing arms of Lady Justice, what would an embattled policeman do? Or more appropriately, what did it do to his sanity?

On national TV, he shamelessly asked for his job back. Looking through Mendoza’s nearly-insane behavior, what did his desperate demand tell us? This is beyond “cacapalán ng muqhâ“. Something is amiss.

He was a victim of injustice.

Although he used twisted means, what he desired was good (getting his old job back). In philosophy, only the good can motivate an agent. Only the good can act as a final cause. But in this bloody hostage-taking, the agent (Mendoza) thought something to be good (taking hostage of the ill-fated Hong Kong nationals) which was really evil. In this case, Mendoza was the efficient cause of the evil indirectly.

Injustice for all

What then should be considered as the per accidens of Mendoza’s murdering of the tourists?

Some people blame the mass media for its lack of sensitivity. It was known that the hostage taker had access to radio and that the tourist bus also had a TV monitor. He was thus able to see and hear what was happening around him. And when he learned that his brother was apprehended by the police for earlier entering the bus without coordinating with them, Mendoza lost what little was left of his sanity. So he started firing at his frightened and defenseless victims. But blaming the media won’t do any good. It will never budge. Ever. For mass media practitioners, bad news is good news. And good news reaps good ratings and more commercial success.

The police? Partly. Besides, it is ancient news among astute observers that our police force is generally a bunch of inutile and useless eaters, sworn to protect primarily (aside from themselves) the rich and their bank accounts. Twelve hours? C’mon.

Arnaldo shared to me of a similar incident which happened in Singapore. A hostage taker was shot point blank by a police officer posing as a negotiator. Clever move. No hostage was killed. Other than that, there was a news blackout. Thus, Singapore did not face international embarassment.

Lessons to be learned: never negotiate fairly with a hostage taker; it is not necessarily a bad idea to block media coverage, especially when lives are at stake; it is high time to strenuously train the police force over hostage-taking situations…

I am going off on a tangent here. So let us go back to the main question: what is the per accidens of all this madness?

Injustice. Injustice is what instigated Mendoza’s criminal act. Indirectly, injustice is what is causing P-Noy too much headache now. Indirectly, injustice is what angered the international community towards the police force’s failure to save the hostages (perhaps not even Venus Raj’s admirable “major, major mistake” could help ease the heat that we are receiving from foreign nations, particularly Hong Kong). Injustice is the last cause of all this because its very opposite was what the efficient cause (Mendoza) tried to accomplish, therefore producing its bloody effect.

Injustice drives weak men, the helpless, the voiceless, to do the the unthinkable, the inhumane, the insane. Injustice is what drove those militant farmers to Mendiola in 1987, only to meet a tragic fate. How much more casualties, indignation, and insanity can we take due to the absence of injustice?

President P-Noy should be exhorted to combat not just corruption, but injustice.

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