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  • Jonathan E. Pearl

Negotiation Stories #1 – The Manila Hostage crisis.... the lessons learned...

Updated: Jul 8, 2019

Mediation is not hostage-negotiation. But some of the methods used by hostage negotiators can help inform the mediator because the former has to use many of the tactics employed by mediators.   Looking at what can go wrong is also informative.


The Manila hostage crisis, officially known as the Rizal Park hostage-taking incident, took place on 23 August 2010 when a disgruntled former Police officer named Rolando Mendoza hijacked a tourist bus. The bus was carrying 25 people including 20 foreign tourists. Mendoza claimed that he had been unfairly dismissed from his job and demanded a fair hearing to defend himself.


Negotiations (which were broadcast live on television and the internet) broke down ten hours into the stand-off, when the police arrested Mendoza's brother and this incited Mendoza to open fire. Following a 90-minute gun battle, Mendoza and 8 of the hostages were dead, and several others injured.


The authorities conducted investigations into the incident which concluded:

• The Manila Mayor failed to properly activate the crisis management committee, depriving the chief negotiator and others of critical information and operational intelligence. [Mediators: Have a plan to ensure you get all the critical information.]


• The authorities were unable to appreciate Mendoza's demands, and there was a lack of communication with and involvement of the Department of Justice. [Mediators: Must practice “active listening” and ensure that third parties are briefed as appropriate.]


• Gregorio Mendoza (the hostage-taker’s brother) was allowed to join the negotiating team. [Mediators: Must guard against any appearance of bias.]


• Subsequently the authorities decided to arrest Gregorio Mendoza.• Two of the key negotiators were absent from the command post at a crucial time, having a meal, which created a decision-making vacuum. [Mediators: Have a plan, and make sure that you are in control of the mediation process.]


• "The inefficient, disorganised and stalled assault" took place without "vital information" about the bus. [Mediators: Must get all the relevant data to help effect a satisfactory and peaceful resolution.]


• There was no plan for what to do after the assault. [Mediators: Have a plan, and make sure that you are in control of the mediation process.]


• Because the news networks were filming police activity, and the bus was equipped with a television, the gunman was able to watch the police action and determine the locations of snipers. [Mediators: must ensure that all parties understand the necessity to keep what happens in the mediation confidential.]

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