Manila police doubted their gear, inquiry told
Some members of the Philippine SWAT team involved in last year's bungled rescue in the Manila bus siege were not convinced their bulletproof vests would protect them against the hostage-taker's M16 rifle, an inquest heard yesterday.
The policemen's fears were first recorded in the Philippines' inquiry into the disaster, which was held in Manila in September. Their testimony was admitted as evidence yesterday in Hong Kong's own inquest.
Eight Hongkongers out of a group of 21 tourists were killed on August 23 by sacked Philippine police officer Rolando Mendoza, who was demanding to be reinstated after his dismissal for corruption.
The Hong Kong inquest also heard from a Hong Kong government forensic scientist who examined the tour bus a week after the shooting. He said that the wheels had been replaced and that almost a third of the seats had been moved.
Among the SWAT officers, Edwin Simacon testified that his vest could protect him only from pistols because it was not fitted with armoured plates. Also, it was made of fibre and was not supposed to get wet, despite the rain that fell that evening.
However, SWAT officer Francis Benette Ungco said that the vest did not affect his confidence.
Ungco last took part in a 'situational simulation' in 2004, the court heard. His last SWAT training was in 2008. Officer Alfonso Gomez Gameng said that members of his unit sometimes had to train at their own expense.
SWAT officers also told the inquiry that they rehearsed their operations five to six times in the morning of the incident, when it took them 10 to 15 minutes to enter the bus.
However, lawyer Roan Libarios suggested to the Philippine inquiry that the actual operation took much longer: 'It seems that the assault happened at 7.30pm, but Captain Mendoza was only subdued at around 8.50pm.'
Gameng said officers struggled to enter the bus because a body, believed to be that of tour guide Masa Tse Ting-chunn, 31, was slumped against the door, preventing officers from opening it.
Moreover, no one told them the windows were made of flexi-glass, which was difficult to break. Police officers did not contact the bus owner to obtain details about it.
SWAT officers also had no idea where the gunman was positioned, Simacon said.
Santiago Pascual, a SWAT chief, said that his officers could not get a visual confirmation of the hostages' seating arrangements. They got some information from bus driver Alberto Lubang's radio interview after he escaped, but some hostages had already been shot by then, the court heard.
Senior Hong Kong government chemist Bobbie Cheung Kwok-keung, who analysed forensic evidence from the bus, said the accuracy of his analysis was compromised by the many items that had been moved on the bus.
He told the inquest that almost half of the headrest covers had been removed and left elsewhere on the bus. He also found that many items scattered on the floor, such as plastic bags and bottles, had been moved.
Using three-dimensional images, he explained the results of 21 blood-stain pattern analyses, which suggested where the dead and the injured were sitting at the time of the shooting.
The inquest continues today before coroner Michael Chan Pik-kiu.