First published in Blogwatch
Certainly, the police got many things wrong during Monday’s bloody hostage-taking at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila. It would be remiss, however, to simply cite the lack of equipment and training for the major blunder, as what foreign security experts, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the police are saying in chorus. The problem actually runs deep at the institutional level: local police forces are trained and oriented to merely hunt and kill perceived enemies of the state, not to save innocent lives.
This underlying question should be asked, since there is a huge difference between the two basic tasks mentioned. The Philippine National Police’s (PNP) slogan “To Serve and Protect” painted in their headquarters now paradoxically questions their orientation and preparedness to actually do so. Does the PNP exist to serve and protect the people? Or is it there to merely serve and protect the powerful few?
The PNP, which has been around for 19 years, actually has the necessary equipment in handling the hostage crisis. Every year, it has been showcasing its firepower at anniversary rites (it even boasted a new V-150 Commando tank this year). It has around 4,000 elite Special Action Force (SAF) units, who are armed with high-powered assault rifles, submachine guns and sniper rifles, aside from its Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) unit.
PNP SAF members, who also train SWAT members, actually received training from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), an advanced counter-terror tactical team of the FBI. SAF members in turn conduct related training such as airborne forces training and military diving for other policemen.