Sunday, August 29, 2010

Lessons From the Mendoza and "Meyjer, Meyjer" Episodes' 1-2 Punch

First of all, let me start with this…  (pardon me for using caps, but this needs emphasizing) THE PHILIPPINE NATIONAL POLICE DO HAVE A SPECIAL FORCES UNIT – THE PNP SPECIAL ACTION FORCE…

According to Wikipedia: “It [PNP Special Action Force] is formed among the lines of UK’s Special Air Service (needless to mention, the world’s best elite squad!), but with different recruitment and selection procedures.  The SAF, over the years, has received training from the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) and Critical Incident Response Group, RAID and YAMAM.  The Anti-Terrorist Unit (ATU) of the PNP-SAF is responsible for nationwide Police Counter-terrorism (CT) operations nationwide. Meanwhile, the regions have specially-equipped and trained Regional Mobile Forces (RMF) which used to be the Light Reaction Unit (LRU) in Metro Manila and the Regional SAF (RSAF) in the provinces.  Members or Police trainees who undergo SAF training undergo several special military combat related training such as airborne forces training, urban warfare and internal security.”

In case you missed the point, PNP’s Special Action Force is definitely capable on taking down Sr. Inspector  Rolando Mendoza (the hostager) with swiftness and efficiency.  Aside from PNP’s SAF, the country’s armed forces also have several elite teams (I will enumerate them if you let me).  I mention this out to point out that our country is not as backward as many people think in terms of police and military capability.  Mmm, okay, it’s actually backward, but not THAT backward as people perceive.   

So, where were this “special forces” that I mention in the Mendoza hostage crisis, you ask.  Well, beats me, it puzzles me as well.  Aren’t the authorities aware that the whole world is watching them?  They can’t risk embarrassing themselves for lousily executing a move (which what happened).  Why not send the best of the best instead of untested regular policemen that is not trained well for such situations?  Were those guys really a PNP SWAT team?  If so, that is more embarrassing.  But again, why didn’t they send the PNP SAF or an army elite squad (since Fort Bonifacio is near)?  

My mother pointed out that maybe it’s against protocol, that the SAF or Army can’t barge in without being asked for help by that police district.  So, in that case, it’s the commanding officers’ fault for not calling for help.  Then, why didn’t they ask for help?  It doesn’t make sense when the law enforcement image of the land is on the line.  It is already said that an SAF unit was actually on hand and ready to move in but the ground commander there refused to ask for help, instead opting to use that "S.W.A.T."   They should axe the commander/s, then. 

But regardless of jurisdiction protocol, isn’t it silly to risk the possibility of screwing up the strike operation just because of a simple protocol?  Really, it doesn’t make sense. When the hostage drama was already escalated to something being observed internationally, there is no more room for gambling for the possibilities.  It’s time to go all in and use the aces.  What’s at stake was the image of, not only the country’s law enforcement, but the Philippines per se.  So, even if the policemen in that jurisdiction did not ask for the help of the elite teams, the higher-ups (the Department of Interior and Local Government or a higher central command) should have just send the SAF anyway.   

Even by looking at it in a “matter of image” angle, why did they not send our best?   Remember that the government several years ago (I think in the 90s), planned of building a Centennial Tower worth P200 Million just for the sake of the country’s image even though those funds can be used to feed the millions of Filipinos that does not get enough food to eat due to poverty.  I’m not sure if the project was carried out, but the intent was there.  That’s how this country’s psyche works: the image is paramount.  So why did that philosophy of showing a good image not applied in this circumstance?  The motive might not be that noble but it would ensure that our best elite team would be utilized.   Really.  It’s really puzzling.  

So, because of those wrong choices, the Philippines would have to endure the perception of the world that all our police force or armed forces are incompetent and ill-trained; that we do not have people trained to handle such scenarios, as what they saw in the Mendoza fiasco.   Our cops and soldiers belonging to those Special Forces units that we have might be cringing by the thought.  

So, instead of the PNP SAF or an Army reaction unit, these clowns were at play last Tuesday…

And, boy, probably every Filipino watching had been cursing at them in embarrassment and aggravation.  Many also were probably laughing (including me… maybe it’s insensitive, but, come on, when the cops started acting clumsily and comedic like the Three Stooges, laughing was instantaneous).  My FB home news feed wall that night was flooded with several threads and status messages articulating these sentiments.  Understandable. 

The “SWAT” operated lousily, without element of surprise, and it took them so long.  The long time it took for that squad to neutralize the enemy was the most obvious indication that they were not well-trained for it.  When an elite team strikes, it only takes them several seconds to finish the job.  No joke.  Heck, these “several seconds” strikes are usually set on terrorist bases or hijacked airplanes, so SFs have more difficult scenarios and up against more opponents than what those cops came across that night.      
A SAS and a Navy Seal in Afghanistan could have been watching the broadcast together in their camp’s TV that night.  “Pffft… 4 of us.  5 seconds… max,” the SAS would comment.  “We’ll do it in 4 secs,” retorts the Seal.  “No way,” returns the SAS, and the two argued good-naturedly.

An FBI sniper might have encountered this picture and wondered why nobody took him out:

In other countries, when a police sniper gets a clear shot of the hostage taker, he takes it.   Sure, it is okay to negotiate, to avoid spilling blood whether the hostages’ or the hostage taker’s.  But as time passed, and when it is clear that negotiations were going nowhere, sniping Mendoza was the best option.  As Mr. Daniel Wagner (of “The Huffington Post”) wrote: “…the Philippine police tried to negotiate with the hijacker of the Chinese tourist bus well after a reasonable period of time had passed, negotiations had failed, and the lives of the tourists were clearly in jeopardy. Police from a variety of other nations would have simply killed him at the first opportunity, regardless of the fact that he was a former colleague. This SWAT team knew how to get the results that were required, but they failed to do so. Why? Their priorities were misaligned. The safety of the hostages should have been paramount - not the fanciful notion that a man who is desperate enough to take hostages would somehow come to his senses at the height of the crisis.”  Exactly.  Taking out Mendoza early on would have limited the casualty to one (Mendoza), but all the hostages would be safe. 

On a positive note, at least, there were still survivors among the hostages, disproving the claim of the driver that all the hostages were killed.  But still, it was an event that put our country and people in a bad light.

The Miss Universe pageant, one of the annual media/pop culture events that I like and look forward to each year (other examples are the NBA All-Star Weekend and the Academy Awards), was on the following day after the hostage drama, er, tragedy.  Personally, I am not a fan of Venus Raj, the Philippines’ bet this year even though she’s a Bicolano and a Bicol University alumnus (her batch was year or two ahead of mine) like me.  But, for that morning (night in Las Vegas, the venue for MU), I was hoping she could win the crown, so that, in a way, we would be refreshed after the hostage tragedy the prior night.  

Before, I get to Raj, let me mention this… again, pardon the caps because this needs emphasizing… WHY ON THIS BLUE EARTH WAS MISS THAILAND NOT INCLUDED (AT LEAST) IN THE TOP 15??!!! 

My allegiance shifted to Fornthip Watcharatra when I saw her ramp in the pre-pageant (but, sorry to say, it was after the pageant when I saw it) in youtube.  It was magical.  Charming girl.  Wants to be a lawyer because she likes justice.  “Order in the court.”  Really beautiful walk.  Search it in youtube.  No, I will not provide the link.  You should at least have some effort since it’s worth it.  Here’s a pic from it, though.  Bask in her beauty as long as you want (and can) before proceeding to the rest of the essay.  

Finished?  Ok.  Now, let's go back to Raj… you know where this is going… yup, “major major”…

Many people criticized and ridiculed her for that.  She was nervous all right and blew it.  But, really, if you’re name isn’t Miriam Quiambao or Charlene Gonzales, you have no right to ridicule her.  Have you ever been on her shoes?  Have you experience the pressure of representing your country in a big stage called Miss Universe?  

Some people, on the other hand, became extreme defenders; they started saying that it was William Baldwin’s fault for asking such a delicate question, that it was unfair for Raj, and that she deserved to win.  To this extreme defenders, I say…  grow up and shut up!  Stop whining and making excuses.  Sure, it’s wrong to down Raj when we do not know the exact difficulty and pressure when on her shoes.  But it’s also wrong to make excuses for her and state that she deserves to win.  I do not buy the argument that it was a loss-loss situation, that admitting a flaw would destroy the chances of winning – like in a job interview, when asked “what is your biggest weakness or bad quality?”, but only this (MU competition) was on a bigger stage – and not answering (which Raj did) would also result to the same effect.  It’s not true that there was no way out.  Raj, if she does not want to give the details on a mistake of her life, could have answered (a revision of the content of her actual answer):  “In my 22 years of existence, I had mistakes, but I don't dwell on them too much because I am very confident with my family and the love they are giving to me. Love erases the stigma of my mistakes. So thank you so much. MABUHAY ANG PILIPINAS!!!”    Don’t you think that that was a great answer and could have made Raj the Miss Universe?      

A comment goes, after the result of the pageant: “Now she has an answer to that question.”  Mistake or not, no matter what, Raj, regardless of the factor that the pressure of the situation brought, was responsible for her answer.  Winning the crown was always relative to her performance.  Thus, it’s wrong to say she deserves to win, and that a judge’s “improper” question screwed her.    

All of us are not perfect.  All of us make mistakes.   And never admitting a mistake is the biggest mistake one can do.  Instead of admitting our mistakes, we tend to make excuses, to rationalize, and/or lay the blame to others.  We always think that we are not at fault, that an external source or force is to blame for our mistakes.  The Christian comedian Brad Stine, arguing this point, joked, “Somebody shoots somebody… ‘Not my fault. We got to blame the gun manufacturer.  Let’s sue them, they invented guns.’” It’s true.  We avoid taking responsibility of our actions.  Laying blame on others when it was our fault is just ridiculous.

Do not judge or ridicule Raj.  But do not make excuses for her as well.  The appropriate thing to do is to congratulate her for making top 5.

So, Raj becoming 4th runner up was an achievement by itself, after several years of MU draught by the Philippines.  Meanwhile back here in the Philippines, with the stigma of the Mendoza fiasco still fresh in everybody’s mind, this happened…

Uh-oh.  Stupid act.  Come on, do these guys ever watch or read the news?  This was receiving heat already… 

That’s totally a douchebag move by those cops.  Now, Hong Kong is sooooo pissed and giving us the finger…


So, what can we learn from our experience with Mendoza and Raj?  One word:  HUMILITY.  

Some Asian cultures like Korea, Japan, and Thailand have this beautiful habit:

Maybe it’s more of a routine of their culture than sincerity.  But the origin of that custom is definitely sincere humility and respect, something that could have been integrated now to their culture.  And we Filipinos should be able to imitate this.

To be humble enough to avoid making excuses for our faults.  To be humble enough to admit mistakes.  To be humble enough to take responsibility for our actions.  To be humble enough to acknowledge limitations.  To be humble enough to ask for help.  To be humble enough to apologize.

So, even if it’s true that one Filipino’s (or several, if we include the insensitive people who took pictures in the scene of the crime or the cops who screwed the rescue operation) fault does not represent our whole country, it still happened in our country and done by our fellow Filipino/s, thus, it still reflects our nation.  We should apologize.  

We are sorry, Hong Kong.

There.  By apologizing, we do something classy as a nation. It does not matter if they continue to hate or persecute the Philippines.  It’s their problem if they decide to act like douchebags.  At least, we did the right thing by apologizing.  

As a nation, we should rise up from the "1-2 Punch" we got.  Hey, Pac-Man, how about winning us another fight, eh?

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