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Gunman’s brother is offered help to testify

Mar 11, 2011

Authorities in the Philippines have offered to set up a notebook computer and a Skype connection to help the brother of gunman Rolando Mendoza give evidence to the inquest into the deaths of eight Hongkongers.

Rolando Mendoza was a disgraced police offer who boarded a Hong Kong tour bus in Manila on August 23 last year with the intention of seeking reinstatement. Of the 25 people initially held hostage on board, seven Hong Kong tourists and their guide were killed and seven injured in the botched rescue attempt. Mendoza was eventually shot by police.

Four weeks into the Hong Kong inquest into the killings, the court was told that the gunman’s brother Gregorio, who was on the scene during the incident, wished to give evidence.

Outside the court, Coroner’s Officer Jat Sew-tong SC said yesterday: “We need to record [the proceedings] … How will we know if someone holds up a sign behind the witness that says `Don’t answer’?”

The offer was made via Philippine Vice-Consul Val Simon Roque. The Hong Kong police needed approval from Philippine authorities to take evidence from a witness in their country, Jat said.

Gregorio Mendoza cannot testify in Hong Kong because he cannot get a passport to leave the country.

Jat said a venue had been found for the video testimony, and pending Philippine government approval, Mendoza’s evidence could be heard as early as Tuesday.

Director of Public Prosecutions Kevin Zervos SC was in the court building to meet Jat and other lawyers, but he only revealed that the meeting concerned “logistics”.

Transcripts of assistant negotiator Romeo Salvador’s testimony at an inquiry held in the Philippines last September were read out as evidence.

The shootings began after Rolando Mendoza saw his brother being arrested as an accessory on televisions aboard the coach, the court heard earlier. Gregorio Mendoza, a traffic police officer, approached the hijacked Hong Thai tour bus at about 1.45 pm, the inquest heard.

At 6.17pm, negotiator Superintendent Orlando Yebra passed a letter from the Ombudsman to the sacked police officer, who demanded to be reinstated.

Gregorio Mendoza and Salvador were also near the bus. After reading the letter, the gunman said: “That is rubbish sir! You are just fooling me!”

Yebra asked the gunman if he would end the situation if he could get a temporary order suspending the dismissal, the inquest heard. The gunman replied: “All right, we talk again later.”

Gregorio Mendoza then told his brother that the police had not returned his pistol, which was confiscated earlier, the court heard.

“[Gregorio] Mendoza … said, “If my gun will not be returned, you don’t accept the agreement!” Salvador told the inquiry. As the three walked away from the bus, the gunman fired a warning shot.

Yebra said to Gregorio: “Why did you do that? You’re just concerned with your gun. You said you could help, but then you caused trouble.”

Yebra recommended Gregorio be charged and arrested as an accessory to the crime, the inquest heard.

Salvador, who was not a trained negotiator, first approached the bus alone at 10.30am, the court heard. When Gregorio Mendoza arrived, Salvador was on an ambulance because he was dizzy.

Salvador told the inquiry that he was very close to the gunman and had wanted to grab him. But Yebra would not authorise the action as it was not in accordance with the rules for hostage negotiations.

Salvador told the inquiry he never thought the crisis would turn violent. He believed a temporary order to reinstate Mendoza would end the crisis. Mendoza knew he would be charged for the hostage taking and was willing to take responsibility, he said.


Maggie Ng


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