Hostage-taking incidents are listed as among the various threats endured by any individual in any locality, which sometimes end up bloody if not managed correctly.
Incidents similar to this menace usually make us think of how the government is unprepared, how they learn from their past mistakes, and how they will handle the crisis the next time it haunts them. Unfortunately, these thoughts remain ideal up to this date.
And while these thoughts continue to be ideal, unfortunately, innocent lives are taken out of this negligence. One of them is probably a college graduate by now if one fateful night did not happen.
On May 31, 2002, a supposedly typical day at the Philtranco Pasay City Bus Terminal turned wicked when a drug-crazed Diomedes Talbo suddenly took the four-year-old boy Dexter Balala and held him hostage with a 10-inch double-bladed knife to his neck.
Coming from a two-week vacation in Camarines Sur, the boy was about to ride a bus with his mother, Salvacion Balala, going to Pampanga when Talbo grabbed him away and seized his custody.
It was not clear what his demands were, but it was certain that he wanted to communicate with some personalities such as a certain Lito Arriola, a former Philtranco driver, and then-Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Heherson Alvarez, who is from Talbo's northern home province of Isabela.
The police were called afterward and tried to cordon the hostage-taker's location, but too many people occupied the area. Initial negotiations were impended because the perpetrator only spoke in Ilocano. He also became more aggressive as time passed by.
When Talbo suddenly moved from his seat, the drama came to a climax. The hostage-taker started to stab the little boy in the back and neck. Sensing that it was a no-win situation, the police indiscriminately fired at him and continued to shoot him until he was down on the terminal floor. The suspect was killed, regrettably, with little Dexter Balala.
Television cameras captured the heartbreaking scene as most of them were broadcasting it live, including the police's continuous firing to the already motionless body of Talbo.
After the horrific events that took place, the authorities initiated an autopsy on both victims. Based on their findings, the young Dexter Balala was mistakenly shot by the policemen five times, including one to his chest that caused his death.
Furthermore, initial investigations found no ground commander taking care of the rescue operation, no police cordon around the area, and no formal negotiator with the hostage-taker.
Even an untrained television reporter was said to have meddled in the police operations and started negotiating with Talbo.
In an interview to a comedic commentary talk show, then-GMA reporter Michael Fajatin narrated his most memorable news coverage almost two decades after the incident saying, "There was a moment that he wanted to surrender, but it seems that they are still waiting for the authorities. They are still waiting for the city's chief executive, maybe to project himself, but it was a long time ago. So, when they waited, [he] became annoyed. It ended up like that."
Agitated with his men's misconduct, then-Metro Manila police chief Edgardo Aglipay immediately sacked Pasay City police chief Eduardo De La Cerna and recommended ten responding police officers be charged administratively. A few days later, then-Philippine National Police Chief Leandro Mendoza directed the entire 341-member Pasay City police force to relieve their duties.
Over a month after the tragedy, the Metro Manila police's Internal Affairs Service (IAS) recommended the "forced resignation" of De La Cerna and the dismissal of six of his men over what was condemned as a "botched" operation against the hostage-taker.
Meanwhile, the investigators also found out that a father's helpless anger could have been the triggering point for Talbo to hold a child hostage. Rosita, the suspect's mother, received a letter from Talbo's younger daughter saying that their uncle-in-law molested her and raped her elder sister.
When he knew the misery happened to his two daughters, Talbo immediately left his home with his second wife to rescue his daughters. Rosita handed her Php 13,000 to serve as their pocket money.
In 1997, Talbo legally separated from his first wife, who took their children to the latter's hometown in Mindanao, where the uncle-in-law lives. The first wife then took on work overseas and is still in her first year of employment when the incident happened.
On the part of Dexter's parents, they said they had forgiven Talbo, but they could not hinder themselves from accepting their child's fate and partly blamed themselves for what happened.
"He just kept on screaming 'Mama, Mama.' I couldn't do anything," a weeping Salvacion Balala, the victim's mother, said.
Darius Balala, the victim's father, said in an interview wearing a blank face expression a week after the incident, "If I were there, I could have done something."
On the other hand, the entire 341-member Pasay City police force who were relieved of their duties were retrained in Subic, Zambales. The drill was supposedly programmed for 30 days but was shortened to 20 days after then-Pasay City Mayor Peewee Trinidad came again into the limelight.
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