, MANILA, Aug 23 – Philippine security forces on Monday moved in on busload of Hong Kong tourists who were being held hostage by an armed ex-policeman, but there were fears the captives had all been killed.
Multiple gunshots were heard moments before the heavily-armed police approached the bus in Manila\’s historic tourist district just after nightfall.
The gunman, former senior police inspector Rolando Mendoza, said moments before the police assault that he had shot two of his captives and would kill the others if police did not move back.
"I shot two Chinese. I will finish them all if they do not stop," he told the Radio Mindanao Network about 10 hours in to the hostage drama, being played out on national television and international news networks.
"I can see a lot of SWAT (special weapons and tactics police) coming in. I know they will kill me. They should all leave because anytime I will do the same here."
Nearly an hour after the police approached the bus and smashed its windows, they were unable to get inside the vehicle.
There were no clear signs of movement from within the bus, raising fears the gunman armed with an M-16 assault rifle had delivered on his threat to kill his captives.
Fifteen tourists from Hong Kong were believed to be on the bus when police moved in.
The Filipino driver jumped out of a window and escaped just before police approached, while nine other hostages including children were released throughout the day.
The hostage drama began Mendoza boarded a bus in Manila\’s tourist district in a desperate bid to clear his name after being discharged for extortion in 2008.
Philippine authorities said 22 tourists from Hong Kong were originally on board the bus, including children, as well as the local driver and two other Filipinos.
Seven of the tourists, including three children and an elderly man, as well two Filipinos, were released at various times throughout the day.
Mendoza, 55, was honoured by police chiefs in 1986 as one of the top 10 officers in the country. But he was discharged in 2008 for his alleged involvement in drug-related crimes and extortion, according to police.
"He wants to be reinstated in the service," Manila district police chief Superintendent Rodolfo Magtibay said early in the day.
Mendoza had posted a series of written messages on the windows of the bus, one of which read: "Big mistake for big wrong decision", apparently in reference to his sacking.
Joseph Tung, executive director of the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong, said the tourists on the bus were aged between four and 72. They were on a three-day tour with Hong Thai Travel and were scheduled to return to Hong Kong late Monday.
"We have never had anything like this before — we are very much concerned," Tung said in Hong Kong.
The identities of the hostages have not been disclosed.
The bus was parked in front of a grandstand at Rizal Park, a popular tourist destination just a few blocks from police headquarters.
China\’s foreign ministry said that its embassy in the Philippines and Hong Kong authorities were in close contact and had already sent personnel to the scene of the siege.
"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and China\’s embassy in the Philippines has already made urgent representations with the Philippine embassy in China and relevant Philippine authorities, urging the Philippine side to actively seek the safe rescue of the Hong Kong tourists taken hostage," it said in a statement.
Monday\’s bus hijack recalled a similar hostage-taking in 2007, when a troubled civil engineer armed with a grenade took over a bus and held 30 children but freed them after a 10-hour standoff with police.
The 2007 drama took place near Manila city hall, just off Rizal Park.
Monday\’s hostage-taking also added to a fast-growing number of attacks of foreigners in the Philippines.
Gunmen shot dead a South Korean man in a separate attack on Monday morning in another section of Manila. Police said the incidents were not related.
Last month, an American, a South African, a Briton and their Filipina partners were killed in spate of murder-robberies in Angeles City north of Manila. The alleged killer was arrested.