Tuesday, August 7, 2012

SPD to crack down on 'tunnel robbers'

Manila, Philippines - The Southern Police District (SPD) is planning to hold a dialogue with pawnshop owners to prevent attempts by robbers to tunnel into their establishments, an official said yesterday.

Chief Inspector Danilo Mendoza, head of SPD’s special operation unit, said officials came up with the idea after police officers thwarted an attempt to rob the DM Pawnshop in Las Piñas on July 7.

“We want to have close coordination with them so we can discuss the measures needed to protect their business from this syndicate,” Mendoza said.

Five men were arrested and charged for breaking into DM Pawnshop on July 7, the first time since 2010 that tunnel robbers were thwarted in southern Metro Manila. It was also the first time that the perpetrators had been charged.

Five previous incidents have so far been recorded in southern Metro Manila – one each in 2010 and 2011, and three in the first half of 2012. All, except one in which robbers struck at a supermarket in Muntinlupa City, involved pawnshops.

The robbers would quietly dig their way into the shops, open vaults using acetylene torches, and leave through the tunnels, carrying with them the bags of gold.

Tech tactics

Mendoza said after receiving a tip that robbers will strike either in Las Piñas or Parañaque, he thought of using Google Map. “The cities are big and my unit had to maximize our resources,” he said.

Using the online map, Mendoza plotted all the pawnshops near drainage openings and manholes. He distributed the list to his men, who patrolled these areas for nearly a month.

They were about to stop the surveillance when they found out on July 6 that a group of men had been going in and out of a drainage opening near a creek along the Alabang-Zapote Road.

“The informant added that the men would go in 1 a.m. and leave before dawn, carrying big sacks on their backs,” he said.

Police officers were stationed around the DM Pawnshop, the pawnshop nearest the creek, and at the drainage opening. Before dawn on July 7, police officers saw men going into the drainpipe. Those deployed near the pawnshop called the security guard, who phoned owner Danila Garcia.

Garcia arrived at her shop just as the robbers were about to blowtorch the vault. Five were arrested, while two escaped.

Alleged group leader Jack Hasanta, 27; Aldo Malama, 28; Jim Bautista, 20; and Arnel Taneg, 26, were charged with robbery before the Las Piñas prosecutor’s office. Except for Taneg, who is from Tabuk, Kalinga, all of them are from Ilocos Sur.

Much to be done

Mendoza said there is still a lot to be done because robbery is a bailable offense. He said the five arrested suspects have already posted bail.

He added that unless pawnshop owners beef up their security measures, they will continue to fall prey to this syndicate.

“This form of robbery has 70 to 80 percent success rate. The perpetrators rarely get caught,” he said.

According to Mendoza, the tunneling robbers belong to a “well organized and well funded” syndicate from northern Luzon, most of them former miners who lost their jobs in the highlands.

Mendoza said using drainpipes to enter pawnshops is cheaper compared to renting houses near pawnshops, which are easier to enter compared to banks.

“They prefer smaller pawnshops that lack necessary security measures like surveillance cameras and alarms,” he said. - By Aie Balagtas See