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Nov 24th
Home Columns JGL Eye Kudos to GMA NEWS TV for Begging Off from the Manila Hostage Situation!
Kudos to GMA NEWS TV for Begging Off from the Manila Hostage Situation! PDF Print E-mail
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Columns - JGL Eye
Thursday, 09 September 2010 19:56





(Journal Group Link International)


Lessons from Hostage Situations Around the World


C HICAGO (jGLi) –  As a former crime reporter and a student of hostage situations, I always notice that in every hostage negotiation, there are always two constants: ensure the safety of hostages and keep things calm.


To attain these objectives, hostage negotiators will have no choice but be compliant with some of the hostage taker’s demands.


The downside with this policy, according to Manila Police Chief Rodolfo Magtibay, is that this could open the flood gates for more hostage takers.


This could be so but sometimes imposing a hard-line policy against the demands of hostage takers or terrorists – which is the more politically popular thing to do – can also be very costly, as in the nine deaths, including the eight Hong Kong tourists and the hostage taker, dismissed Manila Police Chief Inspector Rolando Mendoza, last Aug. 23 in Manila.


Two of the most-horrific hostage incidents in history that ended in tragedy primarily due to refusal of the government to negotiate with the hostage takers took place in Russia.


In October 2002, armed Muslim Chechen separatists took over the Russian theater, threatening to blow it up if their demands for a Russian withdrawal from Chechen region were not met by the deadline.


The Russian government waited several days before appointing an official government representative to start negotiations. Then, it decided to storm the theater, using “knockout gas” instead of negotiating. The result: 129 hostages died, almost all of them, due to poisonous gas. Although poor planning and lack of medical care have been blamed for the deaths, further negotiations would have reduced the number of deaths.




W ithout learning a lesson from the past, in 2004, when Chechen separatists invaded the Beslan elementary school with an arsenal of guns and bombs, Russians refused to negotiate again and resorted to an armed assault. This time, the hostage takers blew up the gymnasium, where most of the hostages were being held, resulting in the death of 300 hostages, more than half of them children.


When Sen. Pia Cayetano asked Magtibay why the hostage negotiator did not just “promise” to grant Mendoza’s demand to be reinstated if it could prevent the loss of life after all the police force do not necessarily have to “execute” the promise, Magtibay said “it was illegal to give in to the demand” of Mendoza.


This hard-line stance of the crisis negotiating team did not only embarrass but could also weaken the young Aquino presidency.


Mr. Aquino, however, is luckier. He is not eligible for re-election. When U.S. President Jimmy Carter failed to free the 52 Americans held hostage in Iran for 444 days in 1981, it cost him his re-election. President Carter did authorize a rescue mission but the effort failed. It resulted in the death of eight American servicemen in the failed rescue attempt.


Under the hostage protocol, during negotiations, to ensure the safety of hostages and to keep things calm, the two negotiators (one primary, and one secondary) could not say “no” to the demands of the hostage taker. Why not promise Mendoza to be reinstated in the service in exchange of the freedom of all the hostages or his surrender? After all, Mendoza was receptive to the idea. And this is one promise that can easily be broken without the risk of losing a life.




O ne school of thought – deontological (duty-based) – supports such action.


Emmanuel Kant’s deontological theory justifies employment of deception by any means if “there is a compelling reason to do so” such as “telling a lie to prevent a murder.”


Under this theory, the police could have even requested a TV reporter to knowingly broadcast false information that Mendoza’s brother had been released from his detention and his gun had been returned if this was the only means to appease Mendoza.

This theory trumps big-time the newsman’s right to know as saving a human life takes precedence over other human rights.


In other words, imposing a news blackout on an ongoing police operation takes precedence over press freedom or ratings war!


Broadcast journalists Michael Rogas and Erwin Tulfo had no business interviewing Mendoza while there was active hostage negotiation unless the hostage taker sought them out and the hostage crisis management team approved the interview. Their lack of training in negotiation could put the hostages and their lives, as well, at risk.




T his was the case of newsman Ruther D. Batuigas on All Saints’ Day in 1971 when the hostage taker asked for Batuigas as the negotiator to save the life of American hostage Susan Butler at Forbes Park, Makati city.


Batuigas risked his life and was authorized by the police to negotiate with the hostage taker and was able to free the hostage.


But in the case of TV broadcaster Susan Enriquez of GMA-7, she begged off to be part of the negotiating team in keeping with GMA-7’s policy. Kodus to GMA TV management for learning a lesson from the kidnapping of Ces Drilon, who was later suspended by ABS CBN for three months for not following orders and to her cameramen for unintentional endangering their lives after they were kidnapped in 2008 while covering a story in the southern province of Sulu by an armed men suspected to be an Abu Sayyaf Group.


In April 1980, members of the Democratic Revolutionary Movement for the Liberation of Arabistan took over an embassy at Princes Gate in London, England. The terrorists took 26 hostages in their quest to liberate the Iranian province of Arabistan.


When BBC botched its reporting on the hostage incident, it sent the terrorists’ leader into a rage. Luckily for the negotiators, they were able to promise a correction of the BBC broadcast in exchange of the release of two hostages. Only one hostage was killed in that hostage incident. While five of the six terrorists were killed in what was hailed as successful operation.


As to the hands-on suggestion that President Aquino should have talked to Mendoza during the crisis, this suggestion would not work. Since the protocol calls for negotiator to cause the delays by telling hostage-takers that higher authorities must be consulted before a decision can be made or a concession offerred, if the negotiator were the President, the negotiation would leave no elbow room for the President to stall and thus will break the protocol. # # #


Editor’s Note: To contact the author, please e-mail him at:  (


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Last Updated on Thursday, 09 September 2010 19:59

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