A day of high drama in the Philippine capital, Manila, ended in bloodshed after a disgruntled former policeman shot dead eight Hong Kong tourists and was himself killed by police commandos who stormed the bus he had commandeered.
The victims were among 25 people – 20 tourists, a Hong Kong tour guide and four Filipinos, including the driver and a local guide – who boarded the bus yesterday morning. In Manila's historic walled city, Intramuros, they were joined by Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza, who hitched a lift.
When the bus reached the sprawling Rizal Park, near Manila Bay, Mr Mendoza, 55, produced an M16 assault rifle and announced he was taking the passengers hostage. As police attempted to negotiate with him, he stuck a handwritten note on the door, stating that a "big deal" would take place after 3pm (7am GMT).
The deadline passed without incident, and six Hong Kong nationals and three Filipinos, mainly women and children, were released in two stages. However, Mr Mendoza – reportedly sacked following allegations of robbery and extortion against him and four other officers – demanded his job back before letting the rest go free.
The road inside the park was cordoned off, and several ambulances and a fire engine waited nearby. As negotiators spoke to Mr Mendoza through the driver's window, the hostages drew back the bus curtains and peered outside.
As the temperature rose on a swelteringly hot day, the gunman's state of mind deteriorated. Shots rang out, and the driver managed to run to safety. He told police that Mr Mendoza had opened fire on the tourists.
Police commandos, who had shot out the tyres to immobilise the bus, surrounded it and smashed the side windows, door and windscreen with hammers. They tried to enter, but retreated amid another volley of gunshots.
For much of the day, Mr Mendoza had appeared quite calm, requesting food for the passengers and fuel to keep the air conditioning running. Mr Mendoza's brother, Gregorio, told a local television station that Rolando was upset at losing his job. "He was unjustly removed from service. There was no due process, no hearing, no complaint. He was dismissed for a crime he did not do."
On scraps of paper stuck to the bus door and windscreen, Mr Mendoza vented his grievances. "BIG MISTAKE TO CORRECT A BIG WRONG DECISION," stated one. "RELEASE FINAL DECISION," stated another, adding what appeared to be details of his case. In a live telephone interview with a local radio station, Mr Mendoza threatened to kill the remaining hostages.
At least four of the tourists crawled out through the back door as police finally stormed the bus, 11 hours after the drama began. "The hostage-taker was killed," said Police Colonel Nelson Yabut. "He chose to shoot it out with our men. On our first assault, [he] was sprawled in the middle of the aisle and shot one of our operatives. On our second assault, we killed him."