MANILA, Philippines – MANILA, Philippines (AP) — President Benigno Aquino III said Manila's mayor, a recently retired police chief and journalists were among a dozen people who could be charged over last month's disastrous hostage standoff that killed eight Hong Kong tourists and damaged ties with China.
The recommended charges, both criminal and administrative, were part of a government investigation report on the Aug. 23 hostage crisis that has been handed over to the Chinese ambassador.
Aquino said Monday he will decide whether to approve the filing of charges, including against one of his close aides, after government lawyers have studied the lengthy report and he has returned from an upcoming U.S. trip.
The president told a nationally televised news conference that his administration wanted to speedily render justice to the victims and help the survivors "get back to their lives."
"We are repairing relations with (China)," Aquino said.
The 11-hour hostage standoff and bungled rescue attempt on a bus parked at a historic Manila park — which millions watched on live TV — strained ties with China and its territory of Hong Kong. Both warned against travel to the Philippines, and thousands of tourists canceled bookings.
The crisis was Aquino's first major test, coming less than two months into his presidency, and highlighted problems within the underfunded police force and his new Cabinet.
Scrambling to handle the fallout, Aquino created a fact-finding committee led by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who submitted an 83-page investigation report on Friday.
The report cited at least eight major blunders by authorities, including then Manila police chief Rodolfo Magtibay's alleged refusal to heed the president's order to deploy an elite police commando unit instead of a local SWAT team and his decision to leave the hostage scene with the Manila mayor for a nearby restaurant shortly before the carnage erupted.
Magtibay was replaced while the rescue was under way.
The bungled rescue "was the convergence of efficiencies omitted and inefficiencies committed throughout the day," the report said.
The report provided a glimpse of the horror as the hostage-taker, dismissed police officer Rolando Mendoza, walked up and down the bus aisle, firing at the stunned tourists. A 14-year-old hostage tried to crawl from her seat toward her wounded brother but was shot and killed herself.
China did not immediately comment on the report. But a Hong Kong government statement praised the fact-finding committee for completing an initial report and urged Manila to take action against negligent officials.
Philippine authorities should step up efforts to ascertain whose gunfire killed the hostages, it said.
"We want to reiterate that the incident is a heart-wrenching tragedy," the Hong Kong government said, urging the Philippines to continue working until "the call for justice can be answered."
The report issued to the public did not contain the recommended charges or the identities of all of those implicated.
Aquino said they included Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, Vice Mayor Iskho Moreno, recently retired national police chief Jesus Versoza, Magtibay, his negotiator and the head of the SWAT commandos. Aquino's close ally, Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno, also was named.
De Lima said the recommendations were "based on the evaluation of the actions, the non-action, the missteps, the lapses, the negligence, the incompetence" of the people involved.
Also facing charges were a radio anchor and reporter who were criticized during the investigation for interviewing the hostage-taker at the standoff's most tense moment, occupying a cell phone line that could have been used by police to make a last-ditch offer, Aquino said.
The two reporters and three major TV networks may be held liable for violating the code of ethics of a Philippine broadcasters' group, according to a Philippine official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly about the report.
Officials and media members implicated in the case protested the findings Tuesday.
"I think this is a shotgun blast (of) findings which included all personalities who were there," said Mayor Lim, who insisted he did nothing wrong.
Puno, the interior undersecretary, vowed to fight any criminal charge that may be lodged against him but said he could accept administrative charges.
Former Senator Aquilino Pimentel, a lawyer for RMN Radio, said the journalists did not violate any law and were just being used "as sacrificial lambs to cover up for the incompetence of some officials."
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines has defended the journalists, saying they were just doing their jobs and police had not ordered them to limit their coverage.
All the eight hostages were killed by the hostage-taker, the report said, noting that more tests were needed to verify if police gunfire hit some of the victims.
Another seven Hong Kongers were wounded in the standoff.
Associated Press writer Min Lee in Hong Kong contributed to this report.