Gregorio Mendoza, the brother of the gunman in the Manila bloodbath in which eight Hong Kong tourists were killed in August, apologised yesterday through his attorney.
'We are very thankful our client was able to prove he has nothing to do with the [hostage-taking] incident,' said Romulo Macalintal, Mendoza's lawyer. 'He expressed his deepest condolences and sympathies to the victims.'
Mendoza became the first Filipino to participate in Hong Kong's inquest into the tour bus bloodbath. He testified via video link from a conference room in Manila, and made his apology outside the proceedings.
Mendoza, younger brother of gunman Rolando Mendoza, testified that during the August 23 crisis he had told Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim that a letter meant to answer Rolando Mendoza's demands might not satisfy the hostage-taker. But Lim told him it was 'OK'.
Rolando Mendoza, had been fired from the police force and said he hijacked the bus to force authorities to give him back his job. The letter said a Filipino ombudsman would review Mendoza's motion for reconsideration of his dismissal, the court heard.
Gregorio Mendoza said his brother told him during the standoff that if reinstated, he would handcuff himself and walk off the Hong Thai Travel tour bus where he had been holding hostages at gunpoint for hours.
The younger Mendoza, himself a veteran Manila police officer, also testified that Lim was the one who instructed him to go with negotiators Superintendent Orlando Yebra and Romeo Salvador to deliver the ombudsman's letter to Rolando Mendoza. 'My brother loves me and I love him ... when he sees me, he'll not go on with the wrong that is done,' he said when asked why he would take on that role.
But the senior police officer with 27 years of experience agreed, when asked, that non-negotiators should not be involved in hostage situations.
Mendoza spoke in a composed manner as he answered lawyers' questions for four hours and into lunchtime, with only a five-minute break. His lawyer Macalintal praised the questioning as 'a very objective proceeding'.
The witness is facing three criminal charges and was suspended on August 31 for reasons that have not been heard at the inquest. Earlier, the court heard that Mendoza had intended to testify in the Hong Kong proceedings in person but could not get a passport to leave his country.
The court heard that when Gregorio arrived at the hostage scene, police confiscated his gun. According to Yebra's testimony in the Philippines' inquiry in September, Gregorio told his brother that the gun had not been returned, though the police had claimed otherwise. This angered the gunman, who called Yebra a liar and fired a warning shot.
Gregorio told the Filipino inquiry the same thing. But yesterday, he testified that it was his brother who first asked about the gun. Coroner's Officer Jat Sew-tong SC questioned why Yebra would recommend that Gregorio be charged as an accessory if what the witness said yesterday was true.
Mendoza first replied: '[Yebra] laid a charge against me six months ago for driving without a permit.'
He later said: 'They made a mistake. The negotiation was a failure. Mayor Lim instructed them to just implicate me.'
Gregorio told the Filipino inquiry that he was frightened when Lim ordered his arrest. He said he was scared as it was 'raining and it was very dark', the inquest heard.
But yesterday he said it was because Lim had ordered him taken to Tondo - an area in Manila that Gregorio Mendoza referred to as 'the killing field', where two people were executed last month. He testified he had begged Lim to let him speak to his brother again. 'If I, together with the family, had been given the chance to approach him, then he would not have killed those people.'
Journalists were not allowed to enter the room where Mendoza was giving evidence. Jat said two Filipino witnesses from the National Bureau of Investigation may give evidence from Manila today.