BIZ COLUMNS: CLEANING UP THIS MAJOR MESS / TOURISM NOW TOUGHER SELL
 

MANILA, AUGUST 27, 2010 (STAR) DEMAND AND SUPPLY By Boo Chanco - Being a politician who has gone this far, P-Noy should have known better than to be invisible during the bus hostage crisis. Whoever advised P-Noy to keep a low profile during the crisis ought to be fired as a bumbling incompetent.

The rule of thumb dictates that a crisis situation that all the television networks decide to cover live and even pre-empt regular revenue making programming for, should be important enough for the President of the Republic to be visibly concerned with.

But I can understand his point too. A good executive should be able to delegate to capable subordinates. Unfortunately, P-Noy was wrong to assume that the top echelon of the PNP is capable enough to deserve his trust. Now he knows better, I hope. If he should go down in flames over the mismanagement of a crisis, as is happening now, he might as well be really responsible for the major major mess by having taken a direct hand.

I am disappointed too with DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo. For someone who had direct responsibility for the police, he was too invisible. I am sure Jojo Binay would have done a lot better. For that matter, I missed Dick Gordon, the one official we had who thrives in crisis situations. Dick would have been very decisive and bahala na with the recriminations later. It makes sense for P-Noy to consider appointing him our national crisis preparedness czar.

As it happened, eight people died. That was a tragedy that cannot be blamed largely on P-Noy’s less than adept handling of it. What we saw on live television was a supposedly elite police unit that obviously was very poorly trained. They are also very poorly equipped.

On their lack of equipment, don’t be that surprised because I am told the PNP does not have the budget to give every policeman a service revolver. So it is par for the course that our SWAT unit did not equip its men with bulletproof vests. They apparently have gas masks but they either forgot to bring or wear them, Senate hearing reveals.

They were also so ill trained they didn’t know there was an emergency door on the bus that could be opened from the outside. They were helplessly trying to sledgehammer their way in via the shatterproof windows. Having the right explosives would have done the job quicker.

The lack of equipment and poor training of our SWAT team is not a problem of leadership we can blame P-Noy for as that Horn woman was suggesting. In fairness, this lack of training and equipment can be traced to the Arroyo administration’s decade of neglect… as well as priorities (remember how they prioritized a junket to Moscow by the police Euro generals with money that could have given our SWAT unit a fighting chance last Monday).

But what do we do now?

The first thing that comes to mind is the need to give our police very clear orders on what to do in a hostage situation. I suspect the fact that Mendoza was a former police officer made his fellow Manila Police officers reluctant to deal with him as they would with an ordinary criminal.

I am told that they couldn’t shoot Mendoza because he was releasing hostages and was negotiating. I don’t know about that… I think the moment anyone takes anyone hostage, the hostage taker should be presumed to have signed his death warrant. As such, the police should take the earliest opportunity to immobilize the hostage taker or even kill him.

Or maybe, the police should get tranquilizer guns as a basic weapon for the SWAT teams. If tranquilizer guns can immobilize elephants, it should be able to do the job on a crazy hostage taker.

Charles Shoebridge, a security analyst who has worked in counter-terrorism with the British Army and Scotland Yard, told the BBC that our SWAT team lost numerous opportunities to restrain the gunman. “The negotiators were so close to him, and he had his weapon hanging down by his side. He could have been disabled without having to kill him.”

Mr. Shoebridge continues: “The video of the drama also shows there were occasions when the gunman was standing alone, during the course of the day, and could have been shot by a sharpshooter. You are dealing with an unpredictable and irrational individual. The rule should be that if in the course of negotiations an opportunity arises to end the situation decisively, it should be taken. Either this possibility did not occur to the officers in charge or they considered it and decided to carry on talking.”

And when the time for talking was over, the lack of training of our SWAT team was there for the whole world to behold. Here’s Mr. Shoebridge’s observation:

“They showed great courage to go on board. It’s very crowded, just one aisle down the middle of the bus. But once you get on board it’s not unexpected you are going to be fired at. Squads like this have to be made up of very special people, specially trained and selected for their characteristics of courage, determination and aggression. In this case they acted as 99 percent of the population would have, which was to turn round and get out! They didn’t seem to have the necessary determination and aggression to follow the attack through.”

But then, how can we blame them for turning around. They were ill-equipped and had no choice but to turn back. This is where the need for proper equipment comes in. Says Mr. Shoebridge:

“The police spent a long time smashing the windows of the bus, whereas explosive charges (known as frame charges) would have knocked in windows and doors instantly. They had no ladders to get through the windows. They smashed the windows but didn’t know what to do next. They almost looked like a group of vandals. Their firearms were also inappropriate - some had pistols, some had assault rifles. Ideally they would have carried a short submachine gun, suitable for use in confined spaces.”

I realize we do not have enough money in the National Treasury to give our SWAT team proper training and equipment. Maybe, we can approach the Israeli government and ask them to give us a grant for the training of our SWAT teams all over the country. If training our SWAT teams is the only foreign assistance the Israeli government can give us, it would be most appreciated and remembered.

The grant should specify that Israeli experts will come here rather than us sending our police officers there. In the first place, the training should be done under local conditions. Then again too, sending the Israeli experts here will enable them to train more police officers. I am afraid that past training where we sent our officers abroad only ended as junkets.

For such equipment as bullet proof vests, night goggle vision and even step ladders and yes, sledgehammers… maybe the local business community, some of the large corporations, chambers of commerce and even Rotary Clubs can pool their resources to get these equipment for our SWAT teams. Let us take the example of the Chinoy fire volunteers who buy their own fire trucks.

Getting the entire Filipino nation doing something about this tragedy instead of merely sounding off on Facebook will deliver the message that the Filipino people are doing something about the problem. When our SWAT team members realize that people are pooling resources to help them be the professionals they can be proud to be, they will have even more reason to make sure they get their work done right.

For now, P-Noy’s credibility is badly damaged, here and abroad… too early in the game. A CNN analysis of the aftermath observed that “the leadership in Manila suddenly finds itself in league with multinational corporations like BP and Toyota who watch their credibility erode as missteps are magnified before a global audience.”

“People were looking to the government to act in a matter that demonstrated competence and professionalism, and that wasn’t apparent,” Michael Alan Hamlin, a Manila-based marketing consultant told CNN.

Sure, P-Noy didn’t do well in the first test of leadership he faced. But in fairness, he is still operating under the shadow of a decade of misappropriation of public funds and wrong priorities. He has learned his lesson now and would be more proactive from now on… I hope!

But we all have a role to play to clean up this major major mess… other than just bitching.

SWAT

Tourism becomes a tougher sell BIZLINKS By Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) Updated August 27, 2010 12:00 AM Comments (0) View comments

No doubt, the hostage-taking incident last Monday of Hong Kong tourists on a bus in Manila was an isolated incident. Nevertheless, its negative impact on the country’s tourism industry – especially in the light of a recent resolution to make it the flagship of the current administration’s platform for economic activity – will linger for a while.

We’ve barely gotten the blueprint for revitalizing the tourism industry finalized, and it’s now back to the drawing board to recalculate how much that Monday incident would cost. And this is not just about increasing the cost of promoting our white sands and smiling people.

This “minor” hostage incident has taught us that if we really are bent on becoming Asia’s tourist destination, we have to make sure that we are ready to provide not just the infrastructure but also the protection that will assure foreign visitors of a safe stay in the country.

Most of our local tourist officials know that potential travelers to the Philippines always seek assurances that they will be safe when they come here. As an example, even if the Abu Sayyaf’s operation is largely contained in a small part of Mindanao, the world mistakenly still thinks the whole archipelago is vulnerable to this Muslim dissident group.

Threats to tourism

After 9/11, the world had become more wary of terrorism and other threats to tourism. Indonesia, for example, is still hurting from the terrorist attack on Bali in 2002 where scores of European tourists were killed and hurt. Bali for the longest time had been the prime destination choice in Asia.

On the other hand, Thailand has been crippled not just by the militant Red Shirt problem that started last year but also of a current lingering threat of terrorist attacks on its major tourism destinations including Bangkok, its capital city.

The incident last Monday is a wake-up call for us: When we invite foreigners to come to the country, we must display utmost readiness to handle threats to tourists, either organized by terrorist groups or instigated by desperate, disillusioned or psychologically imbalanced individuals.

Economic contribution in jeopardy

During the last years, our tourist arrivals have largely been Asians – Koreans, Japanese, Singaporeans, Chinese, and yes, Hong Kong residents – who have learned to appreciate our glorious sun, amazing beaches, and hospitable demeanor.

The past administration has managed to grow the industry without totally relying on the Western market. While our performance pales in comparison to Thailand, for example, our tourism industry’s contribution to the economy has been stealthily increasing.

This year, tourism is expected to bring in about $12 billion, or 6.9 percent of GDP. Aside from the jobs and export earnings generated, it is a sector that is being opened up to foreign investors who are seeing the country’s potential in other fields such as medical tourism, retirement havens, golf vacation tours, and many more.

After the “Monday incident,” which was generally considered as mishandled and punctuated with “admitted mistakes,” the tourism industry’s contribution to economic growth in the coming years is in jeopardy.

Crisis preparedness and management

Crisis will have different faces, and they often come when least expected. But as any crisis expert will say, these can be avoided. When a crisis does rear up its ugly head, it can be managed correctly and efficiently provided those involved are properly trained.

There are lessons to be learned from last Monday’s incident that will have to be incorporated in the efforts to beef up local police capability to handle crisis situations. It would also help a lot if rules are well spelt out with regards to media coverage.

The whole tourism industry will also have to undergo awareness and readiness training that will prepare them not just to handle emergencies but also to recognize risks that may compromise the safety of tourists.

Capability to care and protect

If we want to see tourism to continue growing and contributing to the national economy, we must start to genuinely nurture it. And this does not only mean having working comfort rooms in domestic airports that service tourist hotspots.

We have to be seen as capable to take care of our visitors, not just by pampering them, but also by placing utmost value in their lives.

More on the oil pipeline

Our column, “Readers on the Oil Pipeline and Senior Citizenship” (Philippine Star, Aug. 20, 2010), featured the concerns aired by readers regarding the integrity of the pipeline connecting the oil facilities at Batangas to the Pandacan oil depots of Shell and Chevron (formerly Caltex).

A rejoinder from reader Enrico Belmonte of Brgy. Valencia, Quezon City, was received with the followings comment:

“I read your Philippine Star article, “Readers on the Oil Pipeline,” about the FPIC oil pipelines. Let me correct the errors mentioned by the reader. The pipeline was built in 1969 not in the 1950s. It is well-maintained to world-class standards. Its safety record is even better than the oil pipelines in the US. And there is no leak anywhere in the entire pipeline.

“I know personally the President of FPIC, Mr. Galo Garde. I will forward this email to him and he can give you the facts regarding the pipeline.”

Information from FPIC regarding the condition of the pipeline and the inspection and maintenance activities being undertaken will go a long way to assuage the fears and concerns of the public, particularly those who thinks they are along the path of the oil pipeline.

An invitation to collegiate basketball fans

Students and collegiate basketball fans are invited to join the three ongoing surveys being conducted by the Philippine Collegiate Champions League (PCCL) thru the official website, www.collegiatechampionsleague.net. The survey ends on Sept. 3, 2010.

Respondents are asked to name their choice of the top six teams in the ongoing UAAP and NCAA competitions in the correct ranking order. The top four teams of both leagues automatically earn seats in the Sweet 16 Finals of the 2010 PCCL Philippine Collegiate Championship games, while the fifth and sixth placers will pass through the zonal qualifying games to advance to the finals.

For Cebu fans and those keeping track of the CESAFI games, they are to name the top four teams of CESAFI, also in the correct order of ranking. The top two are seeded in the Finals, while the third and fourth placers will compete in the zonal qualifying games to be held at Cebu City, November 14-17, 2010.

Visit www.CollegiateChampionsLeague.net for more details about the 2010 Philippine Collegiate Championship games.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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