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Philippines police: Authorities botched hostage rescue

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Hong Kong anger of Manila siege handling
  • Gunman was able to watch live coverage of the standoff
  • Police officials say they observed inadequate skills and improper crowd control
  • National police chief says authorities tried to end standoff peacefully
  • Philippine Red Cross chairman says gunman initially said he would not harm hostages

Manila, Philippines (CNN) -- Anger mounted Tuesday as police in the Philippines acknowledged mistakes in a hostage rescue effort that ended with the deaths of eight people on a tourist bus.

Police shot and killed the gunman, former police officer Rolando Mendoza, who was apparently upset at having lost his job. He held hostage a busload of tourists from Hong Kong on Monday and according to witnesses, he was willing to cooperate before he was shot dead.

In Hong Kong, flags flew at half-staff and radio talk shows were abuzz with criticism of authorities in the Philippines. The word "incompetent" was repeatedly heard.

The deadly standoff unfolded live on television, which the gunman was able to watch on a monitor on the bus.

Video: Hostage survivors asking questions
Video: Hostage survivors talk ordeal
Video: Hong Kong issues warning
Video: Hostage aftermath in Philippines
Video: Bus hostage drama ends
  • Philippines
  • Hong Kong
  • China
  • Manila

"We do not want to pass sweeping judgment or make early conclusions except to say that our intention to peacefully end this hostage drama was spoiled when the hostage-taker suddenly exhibited violent behavior and began shooting the hostages," Philippine National Police Chief Director General Jesus A. Verzosa said in a statement.

National police said officials have already noted "some observations and defects during their close monitoring of the unfolding events."

The statement did not provide details, but listed "poor handling of the hostage negotiation," "inadequate capability, skills, equipment and planning of the assault team," "improper crowd control," "inadequate training and competence of assault team leader," and "non-compliance to media relations procedures in hostage situations."

Survivors were scheduled to leave the Philippines on Tuesday as officials and family members called on authorities to investigate.

"The investigation has got to find out, what was the turning point? What happened?" Philippine National Red Cross Chairman Richard Gordon told CNN on Tuesday.

It was a dark moment for President Benigno S. Aquino III, who was elected by a landslide last spring with a promise to restore the nation's reputation. He declared a national day of mourning Wednesday.

Gordon told CNN that interviews with survivors have revealed that the situation inside the bus changed dramatically toward the end of the 10-hour standoff.

"Apparently the man went berserk. He was telling everybody he was not going to harm [them]. ... He said that nobody's going to get harmed. He said that he was probably going to die, but not the hostages," he said.

A woman who was on the bus told reporters her husband was killed when he tried to stop the gunman.

"My husband was very brave. He rushed out from the back of the bus to try to stop the killer," said the woman, who identified herself as Alicia Leung.

She told reporters that she pretended to be dead in order to survive.

"Why did authorities not rescue us? There were so many of us on the bus. Why did no one come to rescue us? It is so cruel," she said.

In Manila, Aquino said he had ordered an investigation and would wait until it is completed before deciding whether anyone should lose his or her job.

In Hong Kong, officials and residents questioned how Filipino authorities had handled the hostage situation.

"This is a serious blow to Hong Kong people. We all feel very devastated," Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang told reporters Tuesday, saying that the government would soon announce community mourning events.

Four men and four women were killed in the standoff, authorities in Hong Kong said. One passenger was critically wounded and six others were hospitalized with less serious injuries after the 10-hour standoff erupted into gunfire, Tsang said.

The Hong Kong-based tour guide was among those who died, Hong Thai Travel said in a statement. Some of the victims were insured and would be compensated, the travel agency said.

The gunman released nine of the hostages, including a mother and her three children, a man with diabetes, and two photographers. The bus driver also escaped.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office said Tuesday that two of the released hostages were British nationals.

Manila police official Leocadio Santiago told CNN that Mendoza's family members spoke with him early in the standoff and that he appeared "very reasonable and very psychologically stable."

Mendoza was a decorated police officer, winning several accolades. But his career spiraled downward when he was dismissed a year ago for extortion, Manila Vice Mayor Ikso Moreno said, and he wanted his motion for reconsideration to be heard.

"He felt that it was being neglected," Moreno said. "So he went on hostaging a bus full of foreign individuals. So when we talked to him this afternoon, that's what he wanted."

Moreno said that Mendoza's brother was arrested because he was "guilty of conspiring with his brother" and allegedly helped instigate the shooting.

Gordon said the brother's arrest may have pushed the gunman over the edge.

"When he saw his brother getting accosted by the policemen, he went berserk and he started firing," he said.

CNN's Sarita Harilela and journalists Constance Cheng, Maria Ressa and Arlene Samson-Espiritu contributed to this report.