by Jason Gutierrez
MANILA, PHILIPPINES - Philippine investigators said Thursday they are to seek charges against up to 10 people, including police officers, over a hostage siege in which a lone gunman killed eight Hong Kong tourists.
A day before the report is submitted to President Benigno Aquino, the panel also concluded the hostage-taker had fired the bullets that killed all eight Hong Kong tourists, said Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, the head of the inquiry.
"We have (had) discussions on specific accountabilities of specific officers and (other) personalities... We expect the president to act on the basis of our recommendation," de Lima told reporters.
"Our main mandate is to find out what happened - so fact-finding as well as evaluation of actions and to make appropriate recommendations on the evaluation of the actions, non-action, missteps, lapses, negligence, incompetence...."
Armed with an assault rifle and a pistol, sacked Manila policeman Rolando Mendoza seized a tourist bus on August 23 in a desperate bid to get his job back and be cleared of extortion charges.
The day-long central Manila standoff ended in a bloodbath that was played out live on global television when police stormed the bus after negotiations failed and Mendoza began shooting.
Eight hostages were killed, while seven others were wounded, triggering public outrage in Hong Kong, which demanded a thorough and impartial investigation.
"High enough," de Lima said when asked about the rank of those who could face charges, adding the panel would seek sanctions against "more or less 10" personalities.
She hinted that apart from police officers and civilian officials, journalists could be among those facing potential sanctions.
De Lima said the panel concluded that the victims were all killed by bullets fired from the hostage-taker's assault rifle, officially dispelling doubts that they may have been accidently shot by police officers.
"Based on the survivors' accounts, they were really killed by the hostage-taker," she said.
Autopsies carried out by Hong Kong police also corroborated testimony by witnesses that those killed were shot by Mendoza, she said.
At public hearings, the inquiry was told of glaring errors by those handling the incident.
These included key officials leaving the scene at the critical moment, passing up chances to take down the gunman, and not involving the police's best trained unit in the rescue.
Members of the inquiry board had also accused a local radio network of hogging the telephone line to the hostage-taker shortly before he began shooting.
The report is to be given to Aquino, who had earlier promised he would send it to Hong Kong along with a high-level delegation as his government attempts to repair damaged ties.
"The minimum expectations (of Hong Kong) is that this is going to be a thorough and credible report, and that is why... you will see that it's very exhaustive, fact-intensive and incisive in its analysis," de Lima said. --AFP