Rolando Mendoza stands by the entrance of a tourist bus as negotiators talk to him during a standoff at Manila's Rizal Park, Manila in 2010. Pic: AP.

Or was he driven over the edge by callous bosses, asks Asia Sentinel’s Cyril Pereira

In August 2010 a cashiered Philippine police officer, Rolando Mendoza, hijacked a tour bus of Hong Kong holiday makers at Rizal Park in Manila, to demand reinstatement. The resulting tragedy precipitated a political crisis between Hong Kong and Manila that lasted for nearly four years.

The 10-hour stand-off collapsed into a botched rescue attempt that left Mendoza and eight Hong Kong tourists dead with seven others suffering gunshots. The sheer incompetence of the Manila police aside, it might have been resolved well before Mendoza’s desperate act. Nothing justifies taking a busload of innocent tourists hostage and endangering their lives. However, questions hover over whether Mendoza was driven to desperation while fighting a frame-up.

Closure finally

For all the posturing by Hong Kong politicians and chief executive CY Leung, closure for the families of the dead and injured came only last week, when current Manila mayor Joseph Estrada (movie actor and disgraced former president) put HK$20 million on the table with a declaration of remorse. Indications are that the compensation was donated by Chinese businessmen in Manila, not the national government or the city municipality.

Strident calls for apologies from the Philippine president by local mass media and opportunistic politicians resulted in a ‘Black’ travel alert slapped by the Hong Kong government plus withdrawal of visa-free access and threats of unspecified economic sanctions.

People Power, a fringe political party long on theatrics, called for withdrawal of visas for Filipino domestics – a move which would have truly spanked Hong Kong residents as much as for the Filipinos. Cooler heads prevailed. James To, solicitor and democratic party legislator, volunteered to negotiate compensation for the families.

Was Mendoza mad?

Almost all commentators refer to Mendoza as a ‘madman’ – somehow absolving the police chiefs and Alfredo Lim, then mayor of Manila, from responsibility for the fatalities.

Wikipedia and a variety of news outlets tell an altogether different story: Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza held a degree in criminology, was decorated no less than 17 times for bravery and was praised by colleagues as “hardworking and kind.”

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