PNP chief, San Juan mayor defend ‘tactical reason’ behind hostage taker’s presser

Robie de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine National Police (PNP) chief General Archie Gamboa on Tuesday defended the move of authorities to allow the hostage-taker to speak to the media during the hostage-taking situation inside Greenhills Mall in San Juan City on Monday.

Gamboa said there was a “tactical reason” behind their decision and called on critics to respect it.

“The reason behind there is tactical. Alam ninyo probably very open tayo, you must understand in some aspect of police operation, we cannot divulge everything,” he said in a press briefing at Camp Crame.

The hostage-taker, a disgruntled former security guard of the mall, captured dozens of people at gun point when he forced his way into the mall.

After hours of negotiations with authorities, he released his hostages in exchange for a chance to speak to reporters without handcuffs to air his grievances for almost 20 minutes. He was also toting a pistol on his waist while talking to the media.

During his press conference, he complained about the irregularities in the mall management and his dismissal from the job without due process.

He was later arrested after five cops tackled him to the ground.

The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) criticized the authorities’ move to give air time to the hostage taker while still armed.

“Una, medyo hindi tayo convinced doon sa sinasabi nga ng PNP, number one doon sa itong pag-allow na magpresscon yung hostage taker na hindi natin alam kung ano yung dala-dala niya. Hindi alam ng public na nandoon kung ano yung gamit na nasa katawan niya,” Kath Cortez, a member of NUJP national board of directorate, told UNTV News in a phone interview.

According to San Juan City Mayor Francis Zamora, who was also present during the negotiations, allowing the hostage taker to have a presser was part of the agreement to coax him to set his captives free.

Zamora also said that he assured the hostage-taker’s safety if he surrenders.

“Marami kasing mga discussions kanina, maraming mga points of negotiation, pero sabi ko I will assure him in fact nung kausap ko na siya sa telepono ay kumalma na siya ang gusto niya lang talaga makalabas ng ligtas,” he said.

National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) director Major General Debold Sinas, for his part, said granting the hostage-taker’s demand for a time with media was a judgment call they made to prevent the escalation of the crisis.

Sinas said the mall management’s alleged poor treatment of him and his fellow security guards prompted him to plan the hostage taking, and airing his grievances is one way to have an early and peaceful resolution to the situation.

The NCRPO chief likewise said snipers were also on standby to take out the hostage taker should he pull out the gun that authorities knew was tucked on his waist.

It’s judgement call between one person versus 40. Could you just imagine if we keep on insisting na huwag dalhin ‘yon, hindi siya lalabas. So, it’s a judgement call. I’m confident that my snipers could take, para sa kaniya, head shot,” he said.

Amid the criticism, authorities said that what is important is the crisis was resolved and all hostages were safe.

They also apologized for any lapses during the hostage-taking situation.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said the PNP handled the situation well as the primary consideration was the safety of all hostages.

“We will conduct an after-incident review and assess the actions of the involved PNP units to find out how their performance could be further improved,” he told reporters on Tuesday. – RRD (with details from Correspondents Dante Amento and Asher Cadapan Jr.)

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