"Hijacker set to be buried in his uniform," South China Morning Post, 27 August 2010

Spot story filed from Tanauan, Philippines, published four days after the 23 Aug 2010 hostage crisis in Manila.


Rolando Mendoza will be buried in his uniform.

At a small roadside chapel two hours outside Manila, his wake appears disconnected from the violence and angst of the past four days. Instead, it celebrates his life before - before the bloodshed, before the ill-fated tour bus, before the dismissal that started him down this tortured path.

The former police captain's memorial is frozen in time. In his coffin, Mendoza's blue uniform is crisp, his name badge polished. A Philippine flag is draped on top and mementos of that previous life before the disgrace and the carnage - a medal emblazoned with the word "Gallantry", a news clipping on the nation's "outstanding policemen", plaques of commendation, a photo in uniform.

But despite appearances, the recent past hangs heavy in the tiny chapel. Those who come to mourn are not only mourning for a father, cousin or neighbour. They mourn for those who died at his hands.

"We express our sincere condolences to Hong Kong and to the families who have lost their loved ones. We are truly, very sorry," Mendoza's younger son, Bismarck, said. A policeman himself, the 26-year-old wears a black police "special action force" T-shirt with "Mendoza" emblazoned on the back.

The young policeman grew teary-eyed as his elder brother, Andrew, recalled their father's happier days. "My father was a good policeman," he said. A seaman, Andrew was in Singapore when everything fell apart on Monday. "I saw the news. 'Oh, that's my father.' I came back on the 24th. He was already gone."

He walked over to his father's coffin. Fingertips touching the glass above his father's face, he gazed down at his father in silence. He looked back up, adjusted the plaques and photos, and straightened the medal on the flag.

"Will people in Hong Kong always hate us?," a cousin of Rolando asked. She worked in Hong Kong for nearly two decades and was hoping to attend the college graduation of her employer's son, which is four years away. "He's like a son to me, I took care of him when he was two weeks old. I'm worried I can't go back to Hong Kong. That's why I feel alone."

Meanwhile, Hong Thai Travel general manager Susanna Lau Mei-sze yesterday paid a visit to injured tour member Joe Chan Kwok-chu, 46, and quoted him as saying there were many questionable points in the incident, including that the gunman had sought to reclaim his suspended pension of a million pesos from the government. And he did not understand why the authorities ignored the request and caused the loss of so many lives, Lau said.