Cops bungle hostage crisis
- Nikko Dizon () - June 1, 2002 - 12:00am
A young mother watched helplessly as a drug-crazed man repeatedly stabbed her frail four-year-old son in a real-life hostage drama shown on early morning television which also showed how policemen bungled a possible rescue attempt.

The two-hour stand-off, which an untrained television reporter tried to resolve, ended with the death of both the young victim, Dexter Balala, and the knife-wielder, later identified by police as Diomedes Talbo.

"He just kept on screaming ‘Mama, Mama’. I couldn’t do anything," a wailing Salvacion Balala, 28, said.

Sensing that it was a no-win situation after Talbo stabbed his wailing hostage at least 13 times with a 10-inch double-bladed knife, policemen opened fire, and kept shooting even as the suspect had already dropped to the ground.

Irate bystanders later joined the melee and stomped on Talbo’s prone and bloodied body.

An ABS-CBN footage clearly showed Talbo holding the boy in one hand leaving his head and almost half of his abdomen open to police sniper fire. But no shot came.

Red-faced police officials vowed a no-nonsense investigation, while Pasay City police director Superintendent Eduardo de la Cerna was immediately relieved of his post by Metro Manila police chief Deputy Director General Edgar Aglipay.

The Balalas had just arrived from a two-week vacation in Camarines Sur and decided to wait for their 4 a.m. connecting ride to their hometown of San Fernando City in Pampanga at the Philtranco bus terminal on EDSA in Malibay, Pasay City.

Balala said that at about 1 a.m., Dexter woke up and told her he wanted to relieve himself. As they started to go to the comfort room, Talbo — a farmer from San Mateo, Isabela — grabbed the boy and held the knife to his side while demanding to see a certain Lito Arriola.

De la Cerna, Chief Inspector Reynaldo Baral and members of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team, and some 20 other policemen responded.

The police officers also tried to talk Talbo into releasing his hostage to no avail.

Police investigator PO3 Rodolfo Soquia said the suspect appeared to be emotionally unstable.

Soquia said Talbo pressed the knife deeper into the boy’s body everytime he would see any movement from the police.

Police said the suspect kept moving, making it extremely difficult even for the snipers to nail him down.

"If our snipers missed because the suspect kept on moving, chances are Talbo would have stabbed the boy," Soquia pointed out.

But Talbo stabbed the boy just the same, prompting the police to open fire.

"We are dismayed by the death of the child," Aglipay said.

He vowed a thorough investigation, using the ABS-CBN television footage as evidence.

Dexter’s father Darius wondered how the suspect, who was reportedly on his way to Mindanao to fetch his children, was able to smuggle the knife into the bus terminal.

"There are so many questions to be answered regarding this hostage situation," Aglipay pointed out.

"If there were lapses in procedure, we would act on them," he added. "If anyone committed a mistake, they have to answer for it in terms of administrative punishment."
No deal for untrained negotiators–PNP
Philippine National Police spokesman Senior Superintendent Leonardo Espina said the police should not have allowed a television reporter to negotiate with the hostage-taker.

"We have to have trained negotiators. We cannot just permit anybody who is not trained to negotiate with hostage-takers," Espina said in a radio interview.

De la Cerna said as ground commander, he did not immediately order his men to fire "because there was no threat, no imminent danger."

De la Cerna, who is due to retire next month, said he welcomed his relief so that the PNP internal affairs office could freely determine where he was remiss.

"What happened was a risk a commander had to take. I was in a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation," he added.

He expressed optimism that the forthcoming inquiry will serve as an "eye-opener to train the police since people have high expectations of us."

He also said he ordered an investigation into the incident, and admitted that his men could have lacked proficiency in shooting, resulting in the bungled rescue operation.

Aglipay pointed out that De la Cerna’s relief would ensure that there would be no whitewash in the inquiry.

De la Cerna was replaced by his deputy for administration, Superintendent Abante Bersamin.

radio-television network was flooded with angry calls from listeners who invariably said the suspect could have been taken out earlier to save his young hostage.

Espina said the probe will be conducted by the PNP Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management, adding that the probers will try to establish if the Pasay City policemen followed the rules of engagement.

"Let us not prejudge the matter at this point in time until we have concluded the investigation," Espina added.

The probers will also question ABS-CBN reporter Michael Fajatin for meddling in police operations.

"We are going to look at the level of authority when he negotiated with the hostage-takers," Espina said. — With Non Alquitran, Jaime Laude, AFP

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