‘Only in the Philippines’: Hostage crisis in the age of live-streaming

March 3, 2020 - 5:10 PM
Archie Paray, the gunman and former security guard who took dozens hostage inside a mall, is arrested by police in San Juan, Metro Manila
Archie Paray, the gunman and former security guard who took dozens hostage inside a mall, is arrested by police in San Juan, Metro Manila, Philippines, March 2, 2020. (Reuters/Eloisa Lopez)

It’s the time when usiseros and usiseras are armed with cameras and mobile data.

Onlookers gathered at Greenhills Shopping Center on Monday, March 3, filming the reported shooting incident and hostage situation with their phones, giving updates online, despite the obvious danger and warning from authorities.

The popular shopping mall in San Juan CIty was placed on lock-down on Monday due to a day-long hostage crisis but spectators still managed to stay in the area and live-streamed the situation.

A former security guard earlier identified as Archie Paray shot one of his fellow security personnel and held captive around dozens of people at Virra Mall or V-Mall.

Police later clarified the suspect’s real name as “Alchie Paray Y Pedraza” based on his license to exercise the security profession.

Reports said Paray stormed the mall at 11 30 a.m. armed with a pistol and grenade before holding hostage 30 people from the mall’s administration office.

The police, the mall management and San Juan Mayor Francis Zamora then asked the public to avoid the area for security reasons.

RELATED: Public warned: Stay away from Greenhills where there is a hostage situation

The mall management also advised against spreading false information online.

“For now, we hope for everyone’s cooperation to exercise caution in sharing unconfirmed information online. Thank you,” the Greenhills Center Management said.

Real-life mall show

The phrase “only in the Philippines” subsequently trended on local Twitter because of tweets criticizing live streaming, vlogging and photo-taking spectators.

“Ano kaya mapapala ng mga to? May artista ba jan sa Greenhills?” the Twitter user said.

Another questioned why the police did not try to curb on them.

“How come the PNP are not controlling the situation? In California the police will cordon the place and people who will not heed to the call will be arrested,” the user said.

A Twitter user then suggested that “there should be a law prohibiting the public to be at a crime scene or at least a specified perimeter that is dangerous while on or after a crime.”

Crisis management strategist Melissa Agnes in a Forbes article said “the act of live-streaming crisis situations started to become more of a commonality in 2016.”

Agnes said that “contrary to popular belief, the real risk of a live-streamed crisis is not the real-time aspect of it.”

She said the new risk is that it presents to the crisis management is the “perception of transparency” that it gives to the general public.

“When an incident is live-streamed, viewers watching the live-stream feel as though they’re seeing the un-edited incident through their own eyes, in real-time, which gives the perception that what they’ve witnessed is the whole story,” Agnes wrote.

“When this is used against your organization, the challenge then becomes to effectively counter this perceived truth and position your organization as the source of trusted information throughout the management of the crisis,” she added.

Putting the limelight on the hostage-taker

Meanwhile, during the hostage crisis negotiation, Paray demanded a video call with his former bosses and also asked them to resign. He requested for all the members of the media present to witness it.

The police granted his requests. Six security officials, also Paray’s former bosses, apologized to Paray. They also expressed intent to resign from their positions.

Paray eventually freed the hostages and claimed mistreatment and bribery within the management during his 20-minute speech.

‘Press conference’ part of the deal

After freeing the hostages, Paray delivered an address against his former employers in front of the media, the police and other witnesses about 20 minutes.

Videos of this speech, likened to a “press conference,” made rounds online.

Zamora explained that giving Paray the microphone before the public was a concession from the negotiation in exchange for the safe release of the hostages.

“Ramdam niya, sa paraan lamang ng pagsasalita sa media niya mailalabas ang hinaing niya, ang sama ng loob niya na siyang naging dahilan kung bakit niya ginawa ang hostage-taking na ito,” Zamora said in GMA’s “State of the Nation with Jessica Soho.”

“Almost 11 hours itong hostage crisis natin so you can just imagine what he was thinking already, so hindi mo na rin talaga alam ‘yung mental state niya,” he added.

Philippine National Police General Archie Francisco Gamboa concurred that there is a “tactical” reason for it, but refused to elaborate further.

He asked the public to respect the decision.

“Probably when the right time comes siguro the NCRPO (National Capital Region Police Office) or the mayor could tell you that,” Gamboa said.

Washington Post correspondent Regine Cabato, meanwhile, reasoned that at least unfair labor conditions were exposed by Paray in his speech.

“What could have easily ended in disaster is now an expose of unfair labor conditions,” Cabato tweeted.

She also viewed that the media and the police might have learned from the Manila bus hostage crisis in 2010.

This event claimed the lives of eight Hong Kong tourists and their tour guide due to botched rescue operations. The hostage-taker observed the police’s movements via live broadcast on television.

“What a wild day. And it seems (considering how no one seemed to carry the press con earlier on livestream) the media and police have learned from their mistakes in 2010,” she said.

Paray was later pinned down by civilian police, arrested and taken away by members of the Special Weapons and Tactics team after his speech.

The mall management said it will look into the labor mistreatment allegations of Paray.

The police investigation into the hostage incident is still ongoing as of press time.