The eyes of not just the nation, but the world, were glued to a strip of public space in Manila for almost 12 hours on Monday.
Just weeks earlier, this amphitheater was packed with witnesses to a climax in a political drama. We watched one man capture a nation. Another man there held us hostage yesterday, almost literally.
Two of our ENG vans had already arrived at the Quirino Grandstand and broadcasted the initial shots of a gunman hijacking a tourist bus of Hong Kong Chinese. We came soon after from Camp Crame, where we first got word of the hostage-taking.
Radio DZMM pieced the first details for us as we drove to Manila to support the coverage.
My mind ran through the Jun Ducat case of 2007, the last very similar event. I was thinking how our field ops teams and how the media, as a whole, handled that crisis. I remember mixed reviews. Would we do better this time?
Our two vans were on opposite ends of the grandstand, each held off by yellow lines about 200 meters from the bus.
My team parked 300 meters facing the bus and cabled a camera with a frontal view of its dashboard.
Six live ABS-CBN cameras were perpetually fixed upon the bus, monitoring the negotiations through extreme closeups and telephoto lenses. More backpack cams were scattered on both ends.
That foreign lives were involved and that it was live brought international attention to Manila. CNN hooked up to ANC’s non-stop coverage.
Other stations arrived to set up live shots. Twitter was abuzz with the crisis. The coverages planned that morning’s story conference were shoved under the rug for this.
A supposed 3 p.m. deadline passed as periodically, hostages were peacefully released.
During this lull, I was assigned to walk to the nearby MPD precinct and look for SPO2 Gregorio Mendoza. TV Patrol wanted to interview him live.
The hostage-taker’s brother had been interviewed at times earlier. But being a little far from the media pack, I had to ask our van boys what he looked like.
I found him along with other press people following him with questions. Mendoza responded only with vague nods to my requests as we walked with him back to the police outpost.
As we waited for his exit and his yes, we heard him shout outside.
Police had brought out Mendoza from the back. The press ran to see him and his son kneeling on the pavement, saying he was innocent and crying for justice. Mendoza’s involvement with his brother’s actions was being questioned.
The reporters, unable to extract answers earlier, asked away and got them. Our live camera nearby caught the commotion and the exchange.
We passed an override earpiece to our reporter, who gave it to Mendoza. Ted Failon, from the Patrol studio, was on the line to ask.
More policemen were approaching to wrest the two away. Other relatives came to their aid and fought the intrusion as Mendoza kept talking.
The press was urged away. The Mendozas were arm-locked and screaming. Gregorio was eventually carried on all limbs to a police car.
A few minutes later, gunshots rang from the bus.
I ran with our cameraman carrying the wireless live cam back to the police line. Jorge Carino, other press people, and bystanders joined us from the side of a tree near the food kiosks.
As shots peppered the silent air, those beside us ducked. We heard the bus driver had escaped and was shouting that everyone in the bus was dead. The realization dawned that this could have ended on a better note.
It was drizzling. We trained our camera on activity approaching the bus.
A photographer breached the police line and ran to the bus until police stopped him.
Our field operations head was conscious of airing shots that could compromise the police operation. He called the studio on our CB radio: “Iwasang ipakita ang galaw ng mga pulis!”
Studio later steered clear of our angle showing the SWAT teams behind the bus.
Our head then conveyed the police’s request to turn off our setup’s strongest lights. We did.
TV Patrol had already preempted the primetime teleseryes. Sir Jorge said, “Subukan nilang ipasok si Agua Bendita, baka murahin sila ng manonood.”
As this crisis reached its bloody climax, the drizzle turned into torrential rain, drenching us. When police finally confirmed the hostage-taker dead, the crowd of onlookers descended upon the bus.
My 18-hour day was still not ending as we moved next to the hospitals where the dead and injured were brought.