When Manila's Rogue Cop Struck Terror…

Phenix Wong - Assignment Editor, Chinese News & Current Affairs, RTHK (Translated by Patsy Moy)

I was enjoying the shopping spree on my day off when the editor called at noon on August 23. Over the phone, the editor gave a brief account of the Manila hostage taking before asking if I could fly there immediately.

I agreed, without a second’s thought, given the serious nature of the incident. The outcome turned out to be so horrific it was simply beyond any of my expectation at that moment.

Back home I immediately packed and readied for the 2: 45 pm flight while my colleague Chen Yi-on who was also assigned to the job pushed the airline hard for air tickets to be issued while another passenger, namely, me, was yet to arrive at the airport.

We finally made the trip. On the airplane, I had two scenarios in mind. First, the incident is resolved peacefully and, second, possible bloodshed.

Upon arriving in Manila, the immigration officer at the airport counter asked if I was from Hong Kong. He looked relaxed, casually asking if the hostage crisis was over.

Chen rushed the hotel where the hostages were staying to collect whatever information he could about them while I headed for the scene. The atmosphere was not tense when I got to the place where the Hong Thai bus was parked, at 7: 20 pm.

The place was crammed with both journalists and passers-by. I was only about 10 meters from the coach. All of a sudden, 5 or 6 gun shots rang out, shocking everyone there. TV camera crews promptly turned off their lights to avoid becoming a target of attack.

Instinctively I was scrambled to find cover and things to shield myself. Eventually, I found a concrete flower bed and hid behind it.

Then I called back to the office to inform them of the shooting. At 7:30 pm, I did my first live broadcast about the shooting over the phone, only five minutes after my arrival at the scene. After I finished the broadcast, my heart was pounding hard and my brain was numb. It was pouring at the time. And all the while I was lugging my bags along. I kept alert, expecting a hectic night.

Gunshots rang out

All of a sudden the driver dashed out of the bus, screaming that everyone on board had been killed. Tension rose. All the curtains inside the bus were drawn down and let no outsider knew what was happening inside the bus. Gunshots inside rang out from time to time. The downpour added frustration to everyone at the scene. I kept reminding myself to stay calm and rational. I prayed each time I heard a shot. My heart chilled.

After 7:30 pm, scores of Manila police officers carrying heavy weapons surrounded the bus. They tried to gain entry into the bus by using their weapons to hammer at the windows in vain attempts to break the glass.

During the whole operation which lasted about 40 minutes, we anxiously asked ourselves: Why have they still not stormed the bus?

Suddenly I began to feel a sense of danger. A boy beside me was hit by shrapnel. I also heard that a TVB crew member was injured by a bullet. I realized what chaos meant.

At 8: 20 pm we were alerted that tear gas was going to be used after a barrage of shots. I used some water to wet the towel to cover my nose so I could continue to work.

More and more gunshots were heard. The gunman in uniform eventually was brought out and laid in a pool of blood with his upper body hanging outside the bus.

With the instinct of a trained journalist, I pushed out to get close to the bus. It was heartbreaking to see the passengers were taken out of the bus. Some were able to walk down on their own. Some, bleeding profusely, had to be brought out on stretchers. Others had completely lost control of their emotions. Some were even left on the ground for a while before they were taken away by Philippines government staff. The half--hour drama seemed to have lasted forever.

Then we scrambling to follow up the condition of those injured and update the death toll.

On the flight home I was completely exhausted and fell asleep. But the whole shooting spree continued to stay in my mind all the way. During the critical moment of life or death, it is human nature to risk their lives to protect their family and loved ones. Each time, I mention the incident to my 10 year-old son, I can’t help shedding tears. Until now, there are many unresolved mysteries about the tragedy. Hopefully the Hong Kong police can uncover the whole truth in their investigation to bring closure to all victims and their families.