by ERNESTO T. SOLIDUM
In the wake of the August 23, PNP debacle at Quirino Grandstand, Manila, local PNP command is actively engaged in fence mending. The hostage taking drama took nearly 12 hours and left eight Hong Kong tourists and the lone gunman dead. International pressure is mounting imposition of travel restrictions to the Philippines in view of security lapses and mishandling of negotiations.
Guests at Smoke hauz Resto & Bar on August 26, 2010 are Police Supt. Epifanio Bragais, Jr., Station Chief Efren Q. Laguihon, AVSECOM, Chief Insp. Aden T. Lagradante of Kalibo and PO2 Nida Gregas. The topic is "Providing Security for Tourism Industry".
Supt. Bragais, Jr. assured the public especially the tourism sector that the local PNP is prepared to handle security and timely response to crisis situations. Just recently, participants from Aklan attended a training in Iloilo City on protocol of media coverage. Hostage taking simulation depicted hotel, bus and boat scenarios that were effectively neutralized.
In the event of hostage or terrorism scenario, it is automatic that the Crisis Management Committee headed by the Provincial Governor takes over. Members include DND, PNP, SAF and SWAT. The protocol in the rules of engagement is initially handled by municipal PNP. If not successful, this is resolved at the Provincial level said Supt. Bragais.
Sta. Chief Laquihon confirmed that AVSECOM has an airport preparedness program where personnel are trained in aircraft assault. Its tactical operation is isolation and containment of criminal elements. He however bewails the inadequacy of personnel and logistics. Hence, the joint patrols conducted in the vicinity of the airport, landing strip and terminal.
Kalibo Police Chief Lagradante welcomes the media coverage of police operations but in sensitive cases like buy-bust operation, there is need to observe procedures otherwise un-warranted news leak tends to adversely affect the outcome. Like the AVSECOM, Kalibo PNP has only 57 personnel when the actual need is 80. Other municipalities suffer the same fate.
PO2 Gregas mentioned that the Aklan Public Safety includes AVSECOM (airport security), Philippine Coastguard (Maritime), Criminal Investigation & Detection Group, Crime Lab (Forensic) and Health Service (Medical Group). As precautionary measure, drivers of tourist buses are prohibited from allowing the boarding of outsiders including military personnel.
It was during Pres. Fidel V. Ramos Administration that the PNP was professionalized with accession of college graduates, intensive training and standardized salaries. This was followed later with modernization program i.e. logistics chiefly sidearms, protective vest, helmets and others. Yet today, the PNP under the Department of Interior & Local Government is losing steam so to speak.
Fresh from the mind of many is the gruesome Maguindanao massacre a year ago where the PNP was prominently figured out. Now, we have the Quirino Grandstand bloody hostage taking and inhuman torture of prison inmates in Asuncion, Tondo. If these are isolated incidents of lapses of judgment of the police in Manila, then what is the real role of this law enforcement Agency? How soon will Pres. Benigno Simeon C. Aquino decide on the case of dereliction of duty and misconduct by its top officials in the PNP?
The Visayan Daily Headlines of August 27, 2010 showed that 351 would be tourists to Boracay have cancelled their hotel reservations. Loss of revenue according to DOT is P30 million. Feeling the pinch are our 100,000 domestic helpers in Hong Kong threatened by loss of job and physical violence. Evidently, these are just the beginning of more "sorrows" to come.
The Bali bombing in 2001 where almost 200 tourists were killed took nearly a year before the Indonesian tourism industry recovered. Yearly influx of tourists number 6 million and you could just imagine the huge loss of economic and international prestige.
Signing into a proactive role, local PNP must lose no time in persuading Gov. Carlito S. Marquez and Cong. Florencio T. Miraflores to allocate more funds to secure the critical long distance (69 kms) between KIA and Caticlan Jetty Port. Request for Police Marshals is still under study by the Regional Office.
While the Quirino Grandstand tragedy is highly condemned as senseless and catastrophic, its negotiation aspect is practically successful with the release of nine hostages. Supt. Bragais ruefully conceded that the PNP underestimated the crisis. It only proved that SWAT, considered Manila’s finest is just hot air.
Recalling the 1997 Honda Bay (Palawan) terror incident, it took a year and a half for authorities to recover the missionary couple Martin and Gracia Burnham. To forestall similar tragic incident, suggestion is to acquire military hardware like assault/rescue helicopter and patrol boats. Strategy involves deterrence and effective tactical operation against lawless elements. Their availability could be invaluable also in disaster preparedness against natural calamities.
Search, destroy and disrupt is a slogan not only used by US combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan but a reality that could be adopted. Primary concern is to protect tourists who are here only to relax, enjoy, and explore. Definitely security is not munching empty words but decisive action. /MP