China expressed outrage yesterday at the sight of the Philippine flag on the coffin of a former policeman who killed eight Hong Kong tourists, as recriminations mounted over the bungled operation to rescue hostages trapped inside a bus in Manila.
The coffin of Rolando Mendoza, killed by a police sniper on Monday after he opened fire on the tourists, was draped in the national flag by his family, who removed it after China's protests. Mr Mendoza's coffin was displayed in his home town south of Manila ahead of his funeral today.
Police confirmed yesterday, after examining bullets, that the victims were killed by Mr Mendoza, rather than by officers who stormed the bus after an 11-hour stand-off. But that did not appease their families, nor the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities, who want to know what went wrong during the crisis, which was broadcast live around the world by television networks.
A decorated officer dismissed from the force after allegations of extortion, Mr Mendoza hijacked the bus – carrying 20 tourists, a Hong Kong tour guide and four Filipinos – and demanded his job back. The 55-year-old later released 16 hostages, but became increasingly agitated as the day wore on and opened fire on the remaining tourists when police tried to board the bus.
Senior police have admitted that their SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team was poorly trained, equipped and led. It has also emerged that the operations commander, Chief Superintendent Rodolfo Magtibay, turned down an offer of an elite military unit, trained by US Special Forces to handle hijackings and hostage situations.
The seven survivors, some of whom were badly wounded, included Amy Ng, who lost her husband, Ken Leung, and her two daughters, Doris, 21, and Jessie, 14. Her son, Jason, remains in hospital with head injuries. Another survivor, 15-year-old Tracey Wong, who hid under a seat, lost both her parents.
As thousands of people prepared to rally in Hong Kong tomorrow to demand justice for the victims, China voiced "strong indignation" at television footage of Mr Mendoza's coffin draped with the flag. It said only "someone of heroism, decency and integrity, not someone who inflicts atrocity on innocent lives" merited such an honour.
The incident has heaped pressure on President Benigno Aquino, who was only elected in May. He has "begged for understanding" while promising to punish those responsible. Ch Supt Magtibay has taken leave, and the four leaders of the SWAT team have been stood down pending the investigation.
Hong Kong has urged its citizens not to travel to the Philippines, and hundreds have already cancelled bookings. There are also fears of a backlash against the more than 100,000 Filipino workers (mostly maids) in Hong Kong.
Police have admitted that their negotiating tactics were poor, and that they missed an opportunity to shoot Mr Mendoza when he opened the door of the bus. It took them an hour to enter the vehicle after smashing the windows with sledgehammers.
During the negotiations, Mr Mendoza – once cited as one of the country's "10 outstanding policemen" – demanded a signed promise that his dismissal would be reviewed. Its delivery was delayed, and by the time it arrived the shooting had already started.