Deputy ombudsman sacked over Manila bus hostage tragedy
Raissa Robles in Manila and Simpson Cheung
A senior Philippine anti-corruption official accused of 'serious and inexcusable negligence' in handling the complaint which sparked Manila hostage taker Rolando Mendoza's gun rampage on a bus full of Hong Kong tourists last year has been sacked.
Deputy ombudsman Emilio Gonzalez (pictured) was first told to go in April but his boss, ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, insisted President Benigno Aquino did not have the power to sack him. Gutierrez resigned soon after amid allegations that she protected former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her family from prosecution for corruption.
Gutierrez had also come under fire for her botched handling of the hostage crisis on August 23, in which seven Hong Kong tourists and a tour guide were killed by disgruntled former police officer Mendoza.
Gutierrez resigned on May 6 just as she was to face a congressional impeachment trial over charges that she sat on graft cases involving officials of the previous administration.
A probe into the hostage-taking also recommended impeachment for her controversial role in it.
Gutierrez's temporary replacement, acting Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro, sent Gonzalez an order on Thursday to 'cease and desist from performing his official and administrative functions'. A copy was forwarded to the Presidential Palace the next day.
Presidential deputy spokeswoman Avigail Valte yesterday told a radio station in Manila: 'Even if belated, they followed the order [to sack Gonzalez]. We have been saying that there is nothing the Office of the Ombudsman can do but implement the order of the Office of the President,' she said.
Gonzalez has not issued any statement nor could he be reached for comment. He has denied the charges of negligence and extortion. Gonzalez can still go to court to appeal over his sacking.
Last night, hostage survivor Joe Chan Kwok-chu, who was shot in both hands, said holding just one official responsible was not enough.
He hoped more officials in higher ranking positions , including Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, would be held accountable for the hostage-taking incident.
'If those higher officials had handled the incident better on that day, the whole thing would not have ended as a tragedy,' he said.
'I hope Gonzalez's stepping down is just the beginning. I want to see a more serious and detailed investigation by the Philippine authorities, and that they can have a dialogue with us and be a responsible government,' he said.