Manila Hostage Taking: President Aquino Fails First Test
With the election of Benigno Aquino III, hopes in the Philippines soared. Finally, they seemed to have found someone who could lead the country out of years of corruption and economic misery. Were these hopes realistic?
There seems little reason to doubt his honesty, but even before his rise to President, many questioned whether he was decisive, and displayed true leadership qualities. His record in Congress was uninspired, showing little inspiration or initiative. However, the country desperately needed honesty above all else, and this was a leader for the average person.
Since taking office, criticism of his lack of action has continued. Land reform, health care, extra-judicial killings and nepotism at all levels of government, remain issues largely unaddressed by this administration. The same accusations of foot-dragging and indecisiveness continue to plague him.
The hostage-taking involving a busload of Hong Kong tourists provided the first real opportunity for President Aquino to show strong leadership. His decision that this wasn't a terrorist situation, and therefore should be dealt with by the local police, proved tragic. Initially it appeared that all would end peacefully, and that the hostages could be freed through negotiations.
Unfortunately talks broke down, and police moved in to take the bus by force. It quickly became clear that they lacked both the training and equipment to carry out this task. The standoff lasted for hours, while attempts to gain entry to the bus lasted more than ninety minutes. The whole world watched what would have been comical, if it weren't for the fact that people were dying, as this farce dragged on interminably.
Why Mr. Aquino chose this path may never be known, but leaders worldwide are making it clear that they would have acted differently. It isn't as if the Philippines lacks properly trained forces to deal with these types of situations. This is a country that has spent years fighting both communist insurgents and Islamic separatists. Although the use of counter-terrorist units may not have guaranteed a better outcome, it couldn't have been much worse. At least the President could have claimed that he had done everything possible, by employing the best available resources.
He is now saying that those responsible will pay for their mistakes. The main error was his, and as President, he must accept most of the blame for this fiasco. A black eye so early in his administration was the last thing President Aquino needed. There is little doubt, in the eyes of the world, that he failed his first test in crisis management, not just by showing poor judgment, but by trying to shift the blame to others.