PNP gets the job done in Greenhills hostage drama

IT’S really still not perfect but to their credit, the Philippine National Police in general and the National Capital Region Police Office did a very good job in resolving last Monday’s standoff in Greenhills, San Juan City with the standoff ending literally without a single shot being fired.

My friend, Associated Press Manila bureau chief Jim Gomez said it all: “Thank God no lives were lost unlike the Luneta bus hostage crisis.” With that, credit should be given to the men of Gen. Archie Gamboa, in particular, the NCRPO headed by Major Gen. Debold Sinas who expertly handled the situation.

Gen. Gamboa yesterday said he was fully satisfied with the actions taken by the NCRPO  to resolve the Greenhills standoff without firing any shot. True, except for the man shot by disgruntled security guard Alchie Paray, all hostages were unhurt after nearly 11-hours of being held captive at gunpoint.

The PNP chief brushed off criticisms on why he was not at the scene saying he has complete trust and confidence that Sinas can do the job and well. He was talking of the thing called ‘devolution,’ the reason why officials like him have subordinates to handle incidents like that.

Gen. Gamboa however said they will still sit down to evaluate their protocols on hostage-taking incidents in the wake of several adverse comments about the way the NCRPO handled the incident including the crowd control and allowing the hostage-taker to go on FB live. As they say, you can’t win them all.

However, the PNP chief revealed that the decision to allow Paray to face members of the media and hold a “press conference” where he lambasted his colleagues and employers after he released the hostages on Monday night was a tactical move.

He refused to divulge the motive behind allowing Paray to talk with the press  saying they don’t want to telegraph their punches since situation like that in Greenhills could happen from time to time although Sinas said SWAT commandos pinned down the hostage-taker at the height of his ‘press conference’ which was really the right time.

My friend, PNP Supervisory Office for Security and Investigation Agencies director, Brigadier Gen. Mike Dubria said Paray is a licensed security guard whose permit will expire next year only. The suspect is an employee of the Safeguard Armor Security Corporation which is also a licensed private security agency.

At first glance, the suspect and his employer have no liability when it comes to the issue of SOSIA license. However, Paray would have to face the court to answer why he was in possession of a loaded caliber .45 pistol with its serial numbers tampered. “Obviously, it can’t be an Agency-owned firearm since they don’t have serial numbers,” Dubria said.

The San Juan City Police Station will be filing criminal charges against the suspect including frustrated murder, alarm and scandal and illegal possession of firearm and ammunition.

Dubria said that the incident will also prompt them to be further strict in checking the clearances including neuro-psychiatric clearances being submitted by applicants for security guard licenses as well as regularly conducting post-to-post inspections to look at the guards’ Duty Detail Order, their uniforms, service firearms and other matters.

Sinas told me that the hostage-taking incident started at around 10 a.m. Monday and ended 8:45 p.m. He said that Paray was in possession of a gun which he used to shoot his officer-in-charge Ronald Beleta in the chest and leg. The victim is now in stable condition.

The NCRPO chief said that their investigation showed that Paray held at gunpoint 10 females and 40 males before releasing them after hours of negotiation.

Credit should also be given  to San Juan City Mayor Francis Zamora and to the chief negotiator, Colonel Orlando Yebra, now the deputy director for administration of the Eastern Police District. Yes, Yebra is the Manila police officer who acted as the hostage negotiator during the infamous Rizal Park bus hostage situation on August 23, 2010 which left eight foreigners and the lone hostage-taker, disgruntled police officer Rolando Mendoza dead.

On Monday, the NCRPO displayed true form in responding to the Greenhills situation. There was no more sight of a bumbling policeman with his reversed cap joining an assault team. There was no more sight of radio reporters interviewing the hostage-taker and acting like a trained negotiator just like in the Rizal Park and the Pasay bus-hostage taking incidents. Although crowd and media control is not 100 percent OK at the scene, still, the police did a very good job in controlling ‘uziseros’ and the media there.

Sinas told me they strictly observed the Police Operational Procedures (POP) on Hostage-Crisis Situations with paramount emphasis on the safety of the hostages, the police personnel on the ground, and the hostage-taker himself.  Thus, the area was strictly cordoned with the incident scene secured and isolated. No one was allowed to talk with the hostage-taker too without clearance from Col. Yebra.

The NCPRO chief told me that all of Paray’s demands were met including his wish to be allowed to talk in front of his colleagues and the press. Shortly after he released all his hostages, the suspect was given the opportunity to speak his heart and mind. “Plainclothes officers just waited for the chance to grab him in the middle of his talk,” the official said. “Thank God that except for another guard that the suspect had earlier shot, no one was harmed during the more than 9-hour standoff in Greenhills,” he added.

Sinas said that under instruction, SWAT commandos grabbed Paray in the middle of his rant. The suspect was found with loaded firearm tucked in his waistline.

As they always say: practice makes perfect. On Monday, the NCRPO proved to all and sundry that they can resolve a hostage-taking incident without asking a sniper to kill the hostage-taker. All were safe and for that, police deserve all the kudos they can get.