Relatives weep as they bury Philippine policeman in hostage drama that killed 8 HK tourists

TANAUAN, Philippines (AP) — Weeping relatives and friends on Saturday buried a dismissed Philippine policeman who took a busload of Hong Kong tourists hostage and was shot in a bungled police rescue operation that left eight of the hostages dead.

About 1,000 people joined the funeral procession for Rolando Mendoza under a blazing afternoon sun in his hometown of Tanauan city, south of Manila.

Many wept and Mendoza's widow wailed loudly as pallbearers carried his white casket out of a church, his body dressed in his police uniform.

Mendoza, 55, was a decorated officer once cited as one of the Philippines' 10 outstanding policemen. He was dismissed from the police force last year on charges of extortion and grave threats.

Last Monday, armed with an M-16 assault rifle and a pistol, he seized a bus carrying 20 Hong Kong tourists, a tour guide and four Filipinos to demand his reinstatement.

He released nine hostages early in the nearly 12-hour drama, but police said he shot the remaining hostages after negotiations broke down and police assaulted the bus. Eight hostages were killed and seven were rescued.

"When he took hostages, all his decorations lost their meaning," Philippine National Police spokesman Agrimero Cruz said Friday.

The incident enraged China, whose foreign minister urged Manila to complete an investigation as soon as possible.

President Benigno Aquino III has "begged for understanding" and ordered a thorough investigation. He also promised to punish those responsible.

China expressed strong indignation on Friday after the Philippine flag was placed on Mendoza's coffin, saying he did not deserve the honor.

Philippine officials denied allowing the flag to be draped on the coffin and a government employee on Friday went to Mendoza's residence, where a wake was held, and took the flag away.

Manila police Chief Rodolfo Magtibay told a Senate hearing on Thursday that he gave the assault order after Mendoza began shooting inside the bus.

Magtibay has taken leave and four leaders of the assault team have been relieved pending an investigation. Officials have said the firearms used by 200 police commandos will be tested to see if any of the hostages were hit by police gunfire.

Philippine officials are bracing for an economic backlash after Hong Kong authorities urged citizens not to travel to the country. National carrier Philippine Airlines said more than 500 tourists from Hong Kong and China had canceled their bookings by the end of the week.

About 140,000 Hong Kong tourists visit the Philippines annually.

Concerns also were raised about the future of more than 100,000 Filipinos working in Hong Kong, mostly as maids.

At Mendoza's funeral on Saturday his son, Bismark, who is also a police officer, tearfully saluted as his father's coffin was lowered into the grave.

He had earlier apologized for his father's action and expressed hope that good relations with Hong Kong citizens could be developed in the future.

"On behalf of my family, I feel very sorry for the loss of your countrymen," he told a group of Hong Kong journalists on Thursday.

During the funeral service, the Rev. Godofredo Mendoza, who is not related to the former officer, asked for prayers "for all who died" and that Mendoza "receive God's forgiveness."

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Associated Press Writer Oliver Teves in Manila contributed to this report.