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Trying To Heal The Wounds (Retitled, Updated)

August 27, 2010

This is a nightmare that we all want to wake up from.But it won’t go away unless and until we are able to fully understand, and then act, on the causes that still bear the seeds of the next blood-soaked hostage-taking incident.

The murderous rage that the dismissed policeman descended is now being analyzed as having been triggered by the impact on gunman Rolando Mendoza of the live broadcast of how his former brothers in arms treated his kin.

Similarly, the people and leadership of Hong Kong felt up close how their compatriots’ lives were mindless sacrificed on the altar of incompetent police operations, with their anger and disappointment compounded by the failure of responsible Philippine officials to be pro active in communicating both our sympathies, apologies, and readiness to make amends.

It can thus be argued that from their naturally adversarial roles in our wide democratic space, government and segments of the broadcast media, through their actions or lack of it, were thrust into the role of unwitting contributors to our present nightmare.

The worst mistake the gatekeepers of these two institutions can make is to wear blinders anchored on such misplaced and mistaken premises as “diplomatic” and official protocols”, agency and rank-specific prerogatives, and the pure and simple ‘I-now-better-and have-it-figured-out’ attitude.

This is the time for close re-examination of the parameters the news media have on reporting crisis situations. Minus huff and puffs, and self serving “we did it right” declarations.

For the Palace, it is humbly submitted that a recalibration of media operations to set aside turf dynamics are called for so that conflicting policy statements that can, at times, run at cross purposes are minimized if not eliminated.

While the buck does stop with the President, Cabinet secretaries must own up to their command responsibilities for each of their portfolios.

Finally, for President Noynoy Aquino , who cannot be his own crisis public relations manager, this Open Letter to him from the Hong Kong Journalists Association merits serious consideration:

Dear President Aquino,

The Hong Kong Journalists Association expresses its deepest condolences to the families of those who died in Manila’s hostage tragedy. We also want to express our appreciation and respect to those who acted bravely and astutely during the long standoff, thus allowing some of the hostages to survive. We are, however, filled with anger and concern over the blame being heaped on the media for allegedly contributing to the tragedy.

The HKJA notes with concern that President Benigno Aquino of the Philippines made the media the scapegoat when he said: “Media coverage of his brother being taken into custody further agitated the hostage-taker…” Using this flimsy excuse, Mr. Aquino said he would consider imposing new restrictions on media coverage should a similar crisis occur.

We have no idea what further restrictions are under consideration but what we are sure of is that President Benigno Aquino’s words were uttered hastily and without careful consideration. Without a thorough investigation such conclusions cannot be taken seriously and the HKJA views the president’s hasty conclusions with grave misgivings.

The role of the media is to tell the world what is happening and what has happened. This is the essence of what the democratic world has come to know and to accept as freedom of the press and freedom of expression. The media’s presence is vital to the preservation of human rights of minorities in any conflict. As in the case of Manila’s killings, nobody can tell if the same tragedy would not have taken place without the presence of the media. What we can be sure of is that without the presence of the media no knowledge of this horrific tragedy would have been known to the outside world.

Moreover, the police force of the Philippines should have known that negotiations were going on between the gunman and his brother, and that this was being telecast. The act of arresting the brother would, clearly, irritate the gunman. Yet the police forcibly wrestled the brother down and handcuffed him, all directly in front of the media.

The police, clearly, had neither strategy nor the necessary know-how to deal with such a situation. With the development of the new media, it is unrealistic to ask the media not to broadcast live in a matter of huge public interest not only to the Filipinos themselves, but also to people in Hong Kong and elsewhere. Proper media arrangements, including a safe area for the media at the scene, in accordance with internationally accepted standards, are of paramount importance. None were forthcoming.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association calls on the Philippines government to refrain from using this incident to introduce harsh measures against the media in order to cover up their incompetence. We will closely monitor the incident and any further deterioration of press freedom in Philippines arising from this tragedy.

With Kind Regards,
Hong Kong Journalists Association
26th August 2010

Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang has, for his par, spoken in a conciliatory tone in the aftermath of the incident.

Here’s how Hong Kong TV reported on the aftermath of the incident:

The foregoing aside, the national image and honor can begin to be repaired only when the orientation and operational reforms sorely needed by our law enforcement,  criminal justice and anti graft agencies are carried out.

Pres. Aquino held his latest press briefing last Wednesday, the 25th, and responded to questions his the criticisms from the Filipino Chinese community and the condition of Filipinos in Hong Kong:

President Aquino: We understand the outrage they are expressing at the current time. They are relatively a small community. This has obviously had a very big impact on everybody there. We understand that sense of outrage, and the anger that emanates from that sense of outrage. We ask for their understanding. We are correcting the deficiencies that we have noted in the implementation of our operating procedures. None of us wanted this outcome. We’d like to emphasize the fact that the primary consideration was on trying to secure all of the hostages. Hence, the degree of control in not responding arbitrarily by our police forces, amongst other things. That message was reiterated to them by me throughout the course of the day: the idea that a forced assault would be the last option that we would employ, and only if there was harm detected in any of the hostages.
[In terms of the Filipinos in Hong Kong], we did communicate yesterday with the Chief Executive of the Administrative Region, Mr. Donald Tsang. We did explain to him the course and chronology of the events that transpired and we expressed our sorrow and grief on the outcome of it. There were several requests that we have attended to, even prior to the requests being made, and we beg for their understanding in the outcome of the situation.
Q: There are so many hate comments going around, especially on Facebook, with Hong Kong people accusing the government and PNP of incompetence, and with others calling on you to step down; the rest even calling you a dog for having seen you smiling in the press conference and in the crime scene hours after the hostage crisis. What is your reaction?
President Aquino: My smile might have been misunderstood, ‘no? I have several expressions. I smile when I’m happy. I smile when I’m faced with a very absurd situation, when I can’t prevent my own emotions. I have to keep my own emotions checked. If I offended certain people, I apologize to them. Obviously, there was no joy in attending to that situation. More on the absurdity of the matter: Why the absurdity? When my mother was president, the PSG demonstrated the capability of successfully resolving a bus hostage situation… bus hostage rescues are common staple of special operations, capable teams, throughout the world. There was an expectation that the appropriate forces will be utilized for this, which has been trained. Let me emphasize, ‘no? The expectation was there, close to 25 years ago, …when they demonstrated before; that was the very first time I saw it. So, we have had so many similar situations—one individual that was taking hostage of several people—that have been resolved peacefully throughout the history of our country.
It actually transpired when we had that assault team using a sledge hammer, having difficulty breaching the bus in…‘yung parang: I was really touched by the absurdity of the situation, this thing that happened, ‘no? And more on the expression—siguro of exasperation rather than anything—I apologize if I offended certain people who misunderstood my facial expression.
Q: The Philippine government has given the Hong Kong side assurances of cooperation in the investigation. In return, have we asked them for any assurance that Filipino workers and tourists would be safe?
President Aquino: I think it went without saying, when the Chief Executive and I had our conversation. He did mention our 20,000-strong population there, and if I remember correctly, they understood that they will be taken cared of. We have received reports that there is, at least from his end, scaling down of the rhetoric that is being expressed at this current time. On our part, we understand the grief that produces a sense of outrage and the anger that emanates as an expression of the grief that they are experiencing. Of course, we hope we could have done better, but there is a tragic loss of life. We will have to bear accepting this anger, because in the end, bending it out will be healthy to the relations of our country, especially [with] the Administrative Region as well as the People’s Republic.

The full transcript of the press briefing is nere:

In the game of communications as vital component of responsive and responsible governance,



This piece on the deeper social meaning of Marshal Mcluhan’s postulate “the medium is the message” by Prof. Mark Friedman is seminal:
Friedman says, in part:

Marshall McLuhan was concerned with the observation that we tend to focus on the obvious. In doing so, we largely miss the structural changes in our affairs that are introduced subtly, or over long periods of time. Whenever we create a new innovation – be it an invention or a new idea – many of its properties are fairly obvious to us. We generally know what it will nominally do, or at least what it is intended to do, and what it might replace. We often know what its advantages and disadvantages might be. But it is also often the case that, after a long period of time and experience with the new innovation, we look backward and realize that there were some effects of which we were entirely unaware at the outset. We sometimes call these effects “unintended consequences,” although “unanticipated consequences” might be a more accurate description.
Many of the unanticipated consequences stem from the fact that there are conditions in our society and culture that we just don’t take into consideration in our planning. These range from cultural or religious issues and historical precedents, through interplay with existing conditions, to the secondary or tertiary effects in a cascade of interactions. All of these dynamic processes that are entirely non-obvious comprise our ground or context. They all work silently to influence the way in which we interact with one another, and with our society at large. In a word (or four), ground comprises everything we don’t notice.
If one thinks about it, there are far more dynamic processes occurring in the ground than comprise the actions of the figures, or things that we do notice. But when something changes, it often becomes noticeable. And noticing change is the key.

The essay in full here:

1st Update

A full week after the bloodbath, Both Manila and Hong Kong are, quite literally still reeling.

In Hong Kong, citizens of the former British colony estimate at up to 80,0000 took to the streets to seek justice for their 8 compatriots whose holiday trip to Manila claimed their lives.

The People’s Republic of China which loosely oversees Hong Kong affairs as a Special Administrative Region under the concept ‘One Nation, Two Systems’ protested the draping of the Philippine flag over the casket of killer Rolando Mendoza.

The good cop gone wrong’s funeral in his Batangas home town was attended by some 1,000 as the Philippine investigation, which President Aquino  directed completed in no more than three week, began with the National Bureau of Investigation joining in.

This as this news recap of a radio station’s interview with the gunman highlighted questions about what triggered his murderous rage:

As China complained about the flag incident, authorities rejected the bid of HK police to take active part in the probe as “it was a sovereignty issue.”

On the diplomatic front, Hong Kong has put on hold the intended visit of a Philippine government delegation simultaneous with the cancellation of the Manila visit of the Chinese vice premier and the “sudden illness” of two of the three Chinese citizens due to receive the Ramon Magsaysay Award.

Sadly, there are these lingering images:

And now comes Social welfare secretary Dinky Soliman admitting today that President Aquino was at Emerald Restaurant (fronting the US Embassy) during the latter hours of the hostage crisis.

Reports quote Soliman as saying the President “was not at the Chinese resto to have dinner but to use it as a the command post”.

(This afternoon, Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda told reporters Pres. Aquino “witnessed the hostage on live TV like everybody did. At 7 he went to Emerald to look for NCRPO officials, MayorAlfredo Lim and Manila police chief Magtibay. Accounts from Emerald restaurant employees said the President arrived at around 8:30 p.m.)

Coming like a bold face exclamation point to the continuing sore was the hack attack on the web site of the Philippine Information Agency “”with their hackers planting the Chinese flag on the site:

If these tangent events drag on, the healing WILL NOT come easy.

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