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article imageOp-Ed: The dirty trail leading to the death of Rolando Mendoza

By Ron de Vera     Aug 26, 2010 in World
Manila - Every story has multiple angles. Every character has multiple facets, each defined by different motives. The story of Rolando Mendoza, the Filipino gunman, is no exception.
His story is not just about a hostage-taking situation that showcased the incompetence of our SWAT Team. It is rooted in something deeper. It stems from subplots involving well-connected figures, slow-moving institutions, flawed governance, and sympathies collected via the technological rumor mill.
But no matter which angle we view this story from, the sad, deplorable condition of the Philippines rears its dirty, ugly head in every single chapter.
Let’s start by stepping back a couple of years to when Rolando Mendoza, the hostage-taker, first hit the news. Let us then take a look at how each character behaved and attempt to discover the motives that drove their behavior by asking seemingly obvious questions.
Chapter one begins in 2008 when Rolando Mendoza, and four other police officers were relieved of their positions. These cops allegedly arrested Christian Kalaw, who claimed to be a chef at The Mandarin Oriental Hotel, on fake drug charges and extorted from him the amount of PhP 20,000. The Inquirer reported that they were not terminated, but instead, they “would be assigned to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and Provincial Regional Office 9 or Zamboanga City.”
So the first question is, how come the sanction was to transfer them to Mindanao? How will that change their behavior? How will that stop extortion? And this is not an isolated case. Recent news reminds us that Rear Admiral Feliciano Angue is set to be reassigned to the Naval Forces Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) as a result of an ethics complaint. So, why Mindanao? If the allegations against Mendoza were true, what would stop him from doing the same things in Mindanao? How is sending personnel under disciplinary action to Mindanao going to help the situation there? We now know that Mendoza was eventually terminated and even stripped of his retirement benefits but this makes one wonder, how many corrupt officers could there be in Mindanao by now?
Chapter two reveals how the complaint was made. After reading Christian Kalaw’s version of his ordeal, I immediately imagined an angered father storming into the police station demanding an explanation and asking that they return the PhP 20,000. Interestingly, none of this happened. No money was demanded back. No father entered a police station. Christian Kalaw’s father, Bob Kalaw, circulated his case as viral email. He did not approach the authorities. It was allegedly the other way around. Numerous accounts on the Internet state that it was Police Sup Eleazar Pepito Matta who wrote Bob Kalaw to address the email that he had been asking friends to pass around.
True or not, this chapter raises another set of questions. Why did Bob Kalaw preempt investigations by circulating this email? Was it to gain sympathy and build up his case? Why didn’t he go straight to the authorities? Why did the Philippine National Police (PNP), with its laughable track record, suddenly have the initiative to reach out to a concerned citizen who hadn’t even filed a formal complaint? Who is Bob Kalaw anyway and just how powerful and connected is he that a complaint he filed is now with the Office of the Ombudsman, a body that is supposed to catch big fish?
As always, each character will have his or her version of the story. Even the audience members will create their own. Some have theorized that Bob Kalaw fabricated the entire email. Andres Rizal, in his blog, claimed that Bob Kalaw wanted his son to take a drug test but Christian Kalaw admitted that he would test positive because he had, in truth, been taking drugs. Rizal further claims on Jim Ayson’s blog that Christian Kalaw was not even connected with The Mandarin Oriental Hotel anymore when he was arrested. Could Bob Kalaw have created this story, randomly picked an unsuspecting police officer as his scapegoat, and used his connections within PNP to clear his son’s name of drug abuse? We might never know. But the fact that we have to ask this question, and that we know the scenario is not impossible, reminds us of another sad truth; oligarchs with clout exist.
Chapter three takes us through the decision-making process. The Inquirer stated in a report:
“Mendoza was fired in spite of a recommendation by the PNP Internal Affairs Service and prosecutors that the case against him be thrown out after Kalaw failed to attend proceedings against the officer.”
Wait, Christian Kalaw never attended the proceedings? Why not? And the charges against Mendoza were dropped. Why was he still fired? And what was the Ombudsman’s decision? Manila Times reported:
“We find the lone testimony of Christian credible on the ground that he would not concoct such a traumatic story against respondents if it were not true”
Hold on one minute. Let me water this statement down and simplify it. If I understand it correctly, this is what the decision is saying in plain terms:
“We believe Christian because he would not make up a traumatic story against Mendoza if it weren’t true.”
What? Where is the logic in this? Whatever happened to cross-examinations? Whatever happened to lie detectors? Whatever happened to evidence? Oh right, Christian Kalaw was absent from the proceedings. So again, more questions. What really was the basis of the Office of the Ombudsman’s decision? What was at stake that a decision in favor of Christian Kalaw was made despite his absence? How strong was Christian Kalaw’s case sans viral email? If this is how our system decides on criminal cases, then we all better be ready with our sob stories.
Chapter four brings us to August 23, 2010. The world has its spotlight on a dismissed police officer who wants his job back. What could be driving this behavior? What could compel a man to take a tourist bus hostage and demand attention from the media and the government? Either he believes he is innocent and was treated unjustly or his face is just as thick as the windows of the bus that he took hostage. Again, we are faced with two scenarios that both fuel the fire of our rage against the rotten system. On the one hand, if he was indeed innocent, we blame the Office of the Ombudsman for its glacial pace in reviewing Mendoza’s case. On the other hand, if he was guilty, we condemn him as someone who exemplifies and perpetuates the negative image of the PNP. Either way, we still lose our faith in the system.
And now, with all this finger-pointing, bashing, and apologizing, there is a very real possibility that we will be distracted from the root cause. Has anyone bothered to understand Mendoza’s version of the story as submitted in his counter-affidavit? Where is Christian Kalaw now? Was he ever held in contempt of court for not attending the proceedings? Did anyone check for evidence of seat-belt marks against his neck as he claimed? It was stated in Bob Kalaw's email that this same group of cops had seven other victims. Where are they? Why have they not come forward to demand justice as Christian Kalaw has successfully done?
A lot of times, the questions are more important than the answers. And sometimes, the circumstances around why one would ask such questions are even more important. I don’t expect that we would find out the truth or that you and I would even have the same version of it. But I would not be surprised if they suddenly shipped the entire SWAT team to Mindanao.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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