The Long View
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:03:00 10/19/2009
As I write this, it’s been four hours since news broke of an attempted armed robbery in Greenbelt 5 Mall. I ended up trying to keep track of events on Twitter, supplemented by news on ANC and the reports of INQUIRER.net. The first tweet I noticed came in around noon, with someone asking if there was an ongoing terror attack in Makati. Within minutes, all sorts of details started coming in. At first, it seemed that shots were being fired in Greenbelt 3, then soon after, it became clear from multiple tweets that it was actually at Greenbelt 5, and that the target was the Rolex store.
There were reports of people running around in a panic, on the second level and also in the basement, as shoppers fled the scene. Other shoppers hid in changing rooms and even restaurant kitchens; some shoppers within the premises of shops, were kept inside the shops until the coast was clear. Some tweets relayed information that shoppers were evacuated, five at a time, as situation normalized.
There were all sorts of confusing tweets from people relaying text messages from friends and family: up to 20 gunmen involved; up to four casualties, including a security guard and a saleslady. All proved, later on, to be inaccurate. But early on, too, came reports the gunmen were in uniform, though some specified PNP uniforms and others Bomb Squad uniforms; there was even mention of alleged CCTV video of the robbers, including a woman. Eventually, reports settled on seven gunmen involved in the robbery.
Via dzMM’s Teleradyo, came news that Greenbelt 5’s basement had been cordoned off – suspects had possibly commandeered a vehicle (two getaway vehicles, some tweets said). There was a lot of subsequent chatter speculating on whether it made sense to target a Rolex store, since it would (supposedly) be difficult to sell the watches on the black market because of serial numbers on the watches; and whether robbery was the true motive.
One Twitterer brought up the Alvin Flores gang, saying the robbers seemed to have followed a similar modus operandi. Even the rumor that the robbers included a female member, according to the Twitterer, seemed to make sense, “Alvin Flores Group has lady member too,” adding that the gang was the prime suspect in robbing Harrison Plaza, Union Bank, St. Scholastica’s, the NFA and LRT.
It took about two hours for the media to finally confirm there was a casualty, and the number of robber-gunmen involved.
One Twitterer who’d been at Greenbelt 5 said she was on the second floor, “around 12ish,” when she saw people running on the first floor of the mall; then they heard two shots, a pause, then louder shots. She and her companions fled to Greenbelt 3, but said it was closed down, so they went to Landmark.
Blogger Rico Mossesgeld’s father called Ayala Security around 3 p.m. and got this account: “Greenbelt 5, seven armed men told mall security that they were investigating a bomb threat, so they were let in. They go to Washington store, smash open the glass. Mayor Tinga’s entourage was nearby; one of Freddie’s bodyguards shot one of the robbers. Not sure if shot robber is dead; other six fled immediately.” Video shown on ANC showed a body sprawled on the threshold of the store, in a black uniform; Inquirer.net’s story confirmed that Mayor Tinga’s bodyguards brought down one of the robbers.
According to Makati Councilor Jun Binay, only one bystander was hurt by a stray bullet; that’s a minor miracle in itself.
The Sunday noontime robbery led to expressions of anger against the robbers, with quite a few people demanding harsher punishment for criminals. Quite a few people pointed out the troubling implications of so many reports suggesting the way the robbers got close to their target was because they used official-looking uniforms: which led, in turn, to people wondering whether rogue cops or military men might be involved, which would make it difficult (if not impossible) for the authorities to investigate their own.
The public has been jittery ever since Typhoon “Ondoy” resulted in the biggest breakdown in public authority in the metropolis since World War II: aside from stories of looting during and after the typhoon, you often hear people discussing an upswing in stories of robberies, big and small.
Blogger Cocoy Danao, writing in Filipino Voices, says it all. In his entry on the Sunday robbery attempt, he wrote: “At the end of the day, does it really matter whether the intent was pure robbery, or a way to instill fear in society? Does it matter whether the intent was to loot to fund a political campaign? The fact remains that the next government still must focus on Institutional Reform. That the eye on the ball must be to make our police more trustworthy, less corrupt and our justice system impeccable. That’s the only way to fight crime, graft and corruption. We fight it by having courage. We fight it by having a justice system everyone can agree is fair and reliable. We fight it with a police force we can depend on. That’s what we citizens must demand of our future leaders. That’s our eye on the ball. That’s how we face our fear.”
But the fear is there. It’s too early to tell if the objective of the robber-gunmen was simply the loot in the watch store, or whether choosing such a high-profile target, on a payday weekend, at that, is supposed to carry with it other benefits, of a political and economic kind. What people are going to be doing, is trying to fit in the Sunday robbery with previous robberies, the public expectation that the election season will lead to an upsurge in violent robberies and extortion as various groups try to “raise funds” by unorthodox means. And that these crimes can play into the hands, politically, of various political groups.