For the second time this year, robbers struck at the Alabang Town Center in Muntinlupa, targeting an armored van that was delivering money to a foreign exchange shop last Friday. The modus operandi was similar: at past 10 a.m., as the armored van pulled up outside the shopping mall and a backpack of cash was unloaded, the robbers struck. The money was headed for the same company that was targeted last February: the Czarina Foreign Exchange.
Apart from high-powered guns, the robbers this time were also armed with a hand grenade. It failed to explode, but a shootout ensued, leaving one of the robbers dead and two security guards wounded. The getaway vehicles were the same: the other robbers fled with their loot on two motorcycles driven by their accomplices. Simultaneously with the robbery, an explosion apparently from another hand grenade rocked a branch of Sterling Bank of Asia, near the shopping mall, shattering glass panels and doors. Three bank employees and two security guards were wounded.
The two attacks were so similar they were likely staged by the same group, and connections to the foreign exchange firm can be explored. In the attack last February, a security guard and one of the robbers were killed. Police at the time tagged a group based in Ozamis City as the culprit, and said a politician was using the gang to raise funds for the approaching campaign for the 2013 midterm elections. Either the trail ran cold or the police lost interest in the case; no politician has been arrested.
The Philippine National Police will have to intensify efforts to catch the perpetrators and prevent more attacks. Anti-crime groups have often pointed out that kidnapping for ransom, bank and armored van robberies, carjacking and other crimes against property typically increase when elections approach. This has fueled suspicion that certain candidates are raising campaign funds through criminal activities. The theory has not been proven and no politician has been arrested so far for direct links to such activities.
Similar robberies have been staged on armored vans in other shopping malls in Metro Manila in recent months. How easy is it to obtain hand grenades in this country? Whoever is behind the robberies, the crooks are clearly well-equipped, daring and ready to kill. And unless the PNP starts making arrests, the crooks will get bolder