Boy had 5 bullet wounds

- Nikko Dizon -
Homicide charges were readied for filing yesterday against 10 Pasay City policemen for the disastrous handling of Friday’s pre-dawn hostage drama that resulted in the death of both the 35-year-old hostage-taker and his young victim.

This developed after autopsy tests on four-year-old Dexter Balala showed that apart from at least 13 stab wounds dealt by his tormentor Diomedes Talbo, he also sustained five bullet wounds including one in the chest, presumably from police firearms.

Talbo, a farmer from San Mateo, Isabela, was gunned down by the police after he repeatedly plunged his 10-inch double-bladed knife into the boy’s back and neck.

Television footage of the incident which took place before dawn at the Philtranco bus terminal on EDSA in Pasay City also showed policemen pumping bullets into the prostrate and bloodied body of Talbo, described by authorities as mentally unstable.

The investigators said the act of shooting a dying person could constitute murder.

In a three-page report to Southern Police District director Chief Superintendent Jose Gutierrez Jr., officer-on-case Superintendent Amante Bersamin also recommended that administrative charges be filed against the 10, as well as Pasay City police chief Superintendent Eduardo de la Cerna, for serious irregularities in the performance of duties. Those facing the criminal charges stemming from the botched rescue operation were PO3 Jose Jonard Castro, PO3 Rodolfo Soquiña Jr., PO2 Renato Llano, PO2 Ashley Gamulo, PO2 Raymond Sabino, PO1 Jayjay Martinez, PO1 Domingo Landong, PO1 Lemuel Galang and PO1 Christopher Torres.

De la Cerna, along with intelligence chief Inspectors Reynaldo Baral, Editha Altera, Aquilino Almanza and PO1 Gregorio Mendoza, PO1 Florante Nobleza, PO1 Roberto Gonzales and PO1 Andito Guardian were subjected yesterday to paraffin tests to determine if they fired their guns, while their service firearms were subjected to ballistic examinations.

Almanza further recommended that Chief Inspector Simon Gonzales, head of the Pasay police Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team, and police Inspector James Turdilla, chief of the Motorcycle Quick Response Team, should also be charged administratively for failure to effectively supervise their respective personnel.

Almanza said he and Altera, who was officer of the day, were among the first lawmen to reach the crime scene.

Fifteen minutes into the hostage drama, Almanza said he and Altera, who acted as ground commander, ordered Castro and Llano, who were armed with Armalite rifles, to shoot and disable Talbo, but the two policemen failed to carry out the command.

When De la Cerna arrived about 90 minutes later, he took over as ground commandeer and directed the SWAT team to disable Talbo, but still no shooting took place.

Speaking in Ilocano, Talbo demanded to see a certain Lito Arriola, prompting De la Cerna to ask the crowd if somebody among them could act as interpreter.

A certain Honorio Pascua volunteered, but the negotiations bogged down.

Almanza said De la Cerna tried to negotiate with the hostage-taker for another 30 minutes to no avail. At that point, Talbo started stabbing his wailing hostage.

Minutes later, the policemen opened fire, cutting down the suspect.

After the first volley of gunfire, De la Cerna grabbed Dexter and rushed him to the San Juan de Dios Hospital where he was declared dead on arrival.

Gutierrez also blamed journalists for overstepping an imaginary police cordon and getting into the line of fire of the lawmen.

"We cannot take our firing positions for fear of hitting the reporters," Gutierrez recalled.

Metro Manila police chief Deputy Director General Edgardo Aglipay immediately relieved De la Cerna even as he ordered a thorough investigation to determine if there were lapses in the police’s handling of the hostage situation.

De la Cerna’s force also came under widespread criticisms for bungling their job resulting in the death of the young hostage.

Initial investigations revealed that there was no ground commander in charge of the rescue operation, no police cordon around the crime scene and no official negotiator with the hostage-taker.

"I can see there are some lapses," Aglipay said.

Lawmakers said they would launch their own inquiry.

Acting Press Secretary Silvestre Afable said President Arroyo directed officials of the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation to conduct their own probes into the incident.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Jose Lina gave the PNP two weeks to complete its investigation.

"I already ordered an investigation for filing of a criminal case which could be homicide with reckless imprudence against the policemen," Aglipay said.

All policemen who responded to the hostage crisis were ordered to turn in their firearms and were being subjected to paraffin tests to determine if they fired their guns.

"Everything we can do to give justice to the slain child, we will do it," Aglipay stressed.

Dexter’s father Darius and mother Salvacion cried for justice for their only son whose remains now lie in their small house along the railroad tracks in Barangay Quebiawan in San Fernando, Pampanga.

"We have accepted Dexter’s fate, but we want to know who was the policeman who fired that fatal shot," Darius said in the vernacular.

There was a profusion of sympathy and material assistance to the tragedy-stricken family, with San Fernando Mayor Rey Aquino taking care of the burial and funeral expenses, while Gov. Lito Lapid sent word from Hong Kong that he, too, would extend financial assistance.
Solons want cops retooled for crisis management
The minority bloc in the Senate called for further training of the police to make them more proficient in handling hostage situations and similar cases.

The legislators also .filed a resolution seeking to indemnify the Balala family of Dexter.

Those who filed the resolution were Senators Edgardo Angara, Teresa Aquino-Oreta, Rodolfo Biazon, Luisa Ejercito, Gregorio Honasan, Robert Jaworski, Panfilo Lacson, Blas Ople, Sergio Osmeña III, Vicente Sotto III and Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr.

Angara said the government should indemnify the Balala family since Dexter’s death was principally caused by a gunshot wound in the chest.

"The government should make up for the negligence of police authorities and their inadequacy in coping with critical situations like what happened in Pasay City on Friday," Angara said.

Pro-administration Sen. Francisco Pangilinan said the policemen involved in the failed rescue operations should be charged with reckless imprudence resulting in homicide.

"They should all be punished for this inexcusable negligence," he said.

Meanwhile, Malacañang brushed aside a call by Lacson for the relief of Aglipay over the incident.

"This is an isolated incident. I think there is no need to replace Aglipay because he has lots of achievement in other areas." Afable said.

For her part, Oreta said "the blood of young Dexter is on the hands of lawmen who figured in Friday dawn’s "tragicomedy or errors."

"On top of a no-nonsense PNP investigation, it is imperative for the Palace to order a comprehensive retraining of all cops and other law enforcers in hostage negotiation-and-rescue operations to prevent more civilians from suffering the fare that befell the young boy who happened to be at the wrong place and wrong time in Pasay City," Oreta said in a statement.

"Given this latest police boo-boo, ordinary citizens are more pessimistic that their supposed protectors are properly trained for their job and are fully capable of maintaining peace and order in their homes and on the streets," she added. — With Efren Danao, Jose Rodel Clapano, Jaime Laude, Ding Cervantes, AFP report

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