RICARDO SALUDO It was a laudable, daring act for President Benigno Aquino 3rd to face the media and the nation in a televised interview so soon after a major debacle in his young administration. And his answers, while unlikely to satisfy seasoned, better informed and critically thinking observers, would go down well with most Filipinos and help limit the damage to his popularity and public confidence from the hostage fiasco last month. But those able to focus on the issues and intelligently appreciate the answers may react the way Trampster did in his or her online comment at abs-cbnnews.com: I do find many faults in the statements and answers, many of which use strategies such as diversion, evasion, appeal to emotion, generalisation, reference to [assertions] unverifiable by the listeners, indirect response, etc. There certainly were several unsatisfactory PNoy replies to the questions from top anchorpersons of the private sector TV networks. Moreover, there were questions that were not asked or asked more pointedly. Still, even though the President might have been less than straightforward with his answers, as one would expect with most politicians, there were some crucial admissions we could glean from his remarks. First, he witnessed and was unhappy with certain actions taken during the Manila hostage crisis, but could not or did not take steps to intervene. Among the events that made PNoy upset were: the way hostage-taker Rolando Mendozas brother was arrested, the glaring inadequacies of the Manila Police Departments swat assault on the bus, the lack of rules for media coverage and the failure to use the Philippine National Police elite Special Action Force (SAF) in the rescue. Second, the President said he relied on the expertise and assurances of veteran police officials and followed crisis guidelines, but both the people and the protocols proved inadequate. The crisis manual, the President explained, counselled that crises should be handled at the lowest level, to prevent the escalation of terrorist demands, but those in charge on the ground clearly failed in safeguarding many of the hostages. Third, Aquino confirmed that there was a call from Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang at the height of the Rizal Park crisis. As noted earlier, PNoy also affirmed that there were elite units with the training and equipment for the bus assault, as recent PNP and army demonstrations also show. His replies belie the doubts cast on Tsangs call by Presidential Communications Chief Sonny Coloma. They also rebut the blame wrongly put by Coloma and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo on the past government for supposedly leaving the PNP without proper equipment and training for the rescue. The SAF had the gear and the capability, PNoy admitted, but the crisis commanders did not use them. For all these implicit admissions, however, President Aquino insisted that given the facts and resources on hand during the crisis, as well as the many other matters he had to deal with that fateful day, he could not have acted differently than how he conducted himself. PNoy said there was little reason to expect a violent turn of events, given the peaceful resolution of past hostage dramas. The President also argued that a more public and direct role for him would have spurred the dismissed police superintendent to demand more concessions. And close oversight by the Palace would have also hampered crisis commanders in making quick decisions without consulting PNoy. On this issue of what the President could have done better, it was the interviewers, not the interviewee, who came up short. That a leader would not concede mistakes is predictable, even for someone who claims to be truthful and sincere. But Paolo Bediones of TV5, Mel Changco of GMA 7 and Ted Failon of ABS-CBN could have pressed the President more forcefully and pointedly on his possible lapses. And for a most crucial imperative: The President must say how he will change his crisis leadership to assure our people and the world that future incidents will be handled better at the top. The issue could have been put squarely very early in the interview if just one question had been asked: Mr President, in several hostage crises peacefully resolved during the Arroyo administration, including the 2003 Oakwood Mutiny mounted by 300 heavily armed troops, and the 2007 Manila school bus drama involving 32 day-care pupils and their teachers, President Gloria Arroyo tasked Palace and Cabinet officials to directly handle the incidents and she herself issued a surrender ultimatum to the Oakwood mutineers. Her success in resolving those crises showed that top-level action works. Should you not have done the same in the Rizal Park crisis? So whats your answer, Mr President? Manila Times