- Associated Press - Monday, August 23, 2010

MANILA | It looked like a hostage rescue in slow motion: Police creeping up on the bus with sledgehammers and smashing first one window, then another, then trying and failing to rip open the door.

When they finally got inside, authorities said, they found nine bodies: eight Hong Kong tourists and the former policeman who had seized the bus to demand his job back.

The bloody denouement to the 12-hour drama in the heart of the Philippine capital, witnessed live on TV, rattled a country already accustomed to kidnappings and violence blamed on Muslim rebels. It provoked demands from the Hong Kong government and China for an explanation, and an acknowledgment from Philippine President Benigno Aquino III that his police need more training and equipment.

It was 10:15 a.m. Monday in Manila when Rolando Mendoza, 55 and married with three children, hitched a ride with the tourists as they visited historic sites in the city. He wore a camouflage uniform and carried an M16 rifle but didn’t seem unusual in the heavily policed capital.

Then he announced that he was taking the travelers hostage to win back his job.

According to newspaper reports, the former senior inspector was among five officers who had been charged with robbery, extortion and grave threats after a Manila hotel chef filed a complaint saying the police had extorted money by falsely accusing him of using drugs.

Mendoza was fired last year but claimed he was innocent.

With the bus parked on a Manila park parade ground, Mendoza stuck leaflets on windows, handwritten in English, saying “big mistake to correct a big wrong decision,” demanding media attention and threatening “big deal will start after 3 p.m. today.”

Mendoza demanded a signed promise that his case would be reviewed, but its delivery was delayed for hours, in part by Manila’s notorious traffic, and when it finally arrived he rejected it as insufficient.

The hijacker’s brother Gregorio, a policeman, was flown in to talk to him through the driver’s window but grew so agitated in claiming Mendoza had been unfairly sacked that police hustled him away, fearing he would inflame the situation.

That apparently angered Mendoza into firing a warning shot. Police made an initial attempt to board the bus, and the hijacker shot and wounded a police sharpshooter, said Nelson Yabut, head of the assault team.

Single shots, then a burst of automatic fire, echoed through the night.

The Philippine bus driver managed to escape and, according to police Officer Roderick Mariano, reported that Mendoza had fired at the tourists. A freed hostage who gave only her surname, Ng, told Hong Kong reporters that she saw her husband killed by Mendoza after he tried to take him on.

“He was very brave. He rushed forward from the back of the bus. He wanted to prevent the gunman from killing people. He sacrificed himself,” she said.

Mr. Yabut, the assault commander, said that “when he started shooting the hostages, that’s the time I gave the signal to my sniper to shoot when there is a clear view.” He said Mendoza died of a single shot to the head.

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