Monday night's massacre seemed to show that for a visitor to the Philippines, being taken hostage is only the second-worst experience. The worst is to be the object of a government rescue attempt. The botched and bloody police operation left many Filipinos seething and wondering whether the country's 'elite' police units deserve the designation. Millions of people here and around the world saw a SWAT team take more than an hour opening the doors of a bullet-riddled bus full of tourists and a heavily armed hijacker. At one point, a policeman tried smashing the door with a sledgehammer only for the hammer to slip out of his hands. Speaking shortly after the operation, President Benigno Aquino expressed dissatisfaction. His interior secretary, Jesse Robredo, said: 'We could have done better.' The country's record in rescue operations is spotty. In 1989 in the southern city of Davao, troops stormed a prison whose inmates had seized five visiting foreign missionaries. The assault killed all the hostage takers and their hostages. In 2002, an operation to free three hostages held by the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf resulted in the death of two of the hostages and the escape of their captors. On Monday evening, the heavy downpour in Manila seemed redundant in what turned out to be a perfect storm of bad co-ordination, poor control and tactical ineptitude. Despite deciding on a policy that Robredo called 'low-key engagement', and after spending most of the day assuring the public the safety of the hostages was paramount, officers let the situation suddenly deteriorate. Authorities waited more than eight hours, sacrificing daylight, before mounting a rescue attempt in the darkness of a rainy night. The decision to attack may have been made hastily, but the actual operation was conducted in excruciating slow motion. Although one report said the SWAT team had practised assaulting an identical bus hours before, when it came to breaching the actual vehicle the policemen were unable to get inside for a painfully long time. According to Metro Manila police chief Leocadio Santiago Jnr: 'We only had a sledgehammer and what we weren't expecting was the durability of the windows.' While the rescuers blundered about, the hostage-taker intermittently sprayed bullets from inside the bus. Crowd control completely broke down, allowing civilians to pour in behind the police. People milled around the bus during the rescue attempt, impeding medical workers and possibly destroying evidence. There was no co-ordination with media, who were allowed to interview the hijacker's relatives and to position cameras and crew where they could. Reporters and camera crew accompanied the SWAT team so closely that at one point, furious policemen positioned on the back of the bus yelled at one cameraman who had trained lights on them. Authorities did not brief the press or lay down guidelines. The hijacker, cashiered police officer Rolando Mendoza, was watching the news on a television inside the bus and became incensed when he saw his brother seemingly being maltreated by police. He opened fire on the hostages, prompting authorities to hastily mount a rescue attempt. Mayor Alfredo Lim, a former Manila police chief, said he had ordered law enforcers to cordon off the place and prevent the media from doing interviews. He claimed the negotiations were being conducted by officers trained by the FBI and Scotland Yard. But congressman Rodolfo Biazon, a former commander of the armed forces, said there had been no ground commander in charge of the negotiations. 'There were too many people meddling,' he said. A senior national police official who asked not to be named said the country's elite police were 'properly trained' and 'properly selected', explaining the members were instructed by people who themselves received training in the United States. The problem was 'lack of additional equipment', he said. 'We need more resources, equipment.' The policemen who made the assault on the bus used tear gas but had no gas masks. One media report alleged that the masks were available but had no breathing filters. Authorities have promised a full investigation into the debacle. 'We are studying the shortcomings and drawing up recommendations,' secretary Robredo said. 'We need to review the protocol, not just for the police, but also for the media.' In the meantime, the stock of the national police, never high at the best of times, is possibly at an all-time low. Public outrage and indignation has found virulent expression online. One remark going around says that 'SWAT' actually stands for 'Sayang Wala Akong Training' (A pity I don't have any training).