The Long View: Brazen

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 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;’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.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

18 thoughts on “The Long View: Brazen

  1. It’s election season and it’s quite obvious that politics had something to do with it.

    Like what Carl has said, things are just starting to become more interesting. Sadly though, it’s the public that has to pay the price for it.

  2. Why not a bank with lots of cash and not in an enclosed mall. With that kind of firepower, cash in bank would be easy and logical picking instead of watches with serial numbers if the robbers are not dumb.

    Hmmmmn, something is fishy here.

  3. why will the mall management tighten the security to us citizens while yesterday there is not even one guard or police be seen in the encounter.

  4. Robbers in bomb detection unit uniforms totally fool mall security guards, who become almost non-existent and do not even bother to follow the thieves to where the alleged bomb was planted.

    Makati police totally confused and inept.

    Robbers take the cheap watches and leave the expensive ones behind.

    2 cops on security detail to a visiting mayor from a neighboring city becoming the accidental heroes in this bizarre incident .

    There’s a disconnect somewhere.

  5. Although I know the robbers are the bad guys, I wish that there were less of these incidents that end in a shootout. I feel like almost every day I read in the paper about a crime ending in a shootout (by police or otherwise). Just because someone is committing a crime, does not mean that they should be shot. (Admittedly, in this situation they apparently had some psycho weapons, but the general idea is the same).

    Sorry to sound so ignorant, but what happens after Christmas? I have only lived here for three years so I am not fully hip on elections and the like here…..

  6. carl story seems to be that the “bomb squad” came in through basement, when stopped said there was bomb in gb2, when they entered the mall at that point they pulled their guns on the security and disarmed them, proceeded to rob store.

    what bothers me is that the bodyguards of tinga were armed. one of them was obviously a good shot and hit one of the bad guys. but i shudder to think of the many ways things could have gone wrong. especially since robbers said to have had a grenade launcher besides m-16s.

    so the failures in security seem to be: no way to quickly verify there was a real alert and a real bomb squad dispatched; no way to apparently disarm bodyguards when within mall premises. otherwise, makes sense to me not to confront robbers armed with automatic weapons, security at that point better used getting shoppers/shop staff out of harms’ way, cordoning off incident area until authorities arrive -except problem in the first place was that the robbers came disguised as the authorities.

  7. ‘no way to quickly verify there was a real alert and a real bomb squad dispatched’

    Mall security should not be armed. They should only carry hand-held radio to communicate.

  8. Banks have guards with shotguns and timelocks. A watch store has watches behind a glass cabinet. Any dumb crook knows the obvious, logical choice would be to kidnap a Chinese businessman, I mean, rob a watch store.

    To the point that Rolexes have serial #s, that wouldn’t deter cheapskates who are after the real rolex mccoy. There’s a market for all sorts of stolen goods, and watches are the easiest to buy from the point of view of a consumer of stolen goods, as their small, innocuous, and won’t be as “hot” as, say, a stolen car (but could be just as valuable). From the point of view of a robber financed by a fence, rolexes are a, pardon the pun, a great steal as their valuable and easily transportable and easy to conceal.

  9. And has anybody looked at the angle of a financially distressed watch shop owner whose whose after an robbery related insurance scam? Officer Wigum should be informed.

  10. The cheapest rolex is close to a half million pesos. Not bad for the robbers if they were successful.

    With M14 equipped with grenade launcher and armor vests, the robbery is well financed that could point to the military. But the brief fight and scampering to escape gave out that robbers have no military training except watching action movies glorifying high powered weapons and armor plating. It could not even engage longer on 2 police who did not have body protection and armed only with 45 and 9 mm.

    The dead robber is evidently young and handsome by the picture. Another rich family will soon claim of the missing son, a tragedy of a spoiled son who with similar friends can only think of quick rich and adventure without thinking of consequences.

  11. “The mall security guards should have shot it out with the bad guys”, says Chief Superintendent Ireno Bacolod, head of the Civil Security Group in-charge of the country’s security guards and agencies. “the security guards, being force multipliers of policemen, should assist in whatever police operation as needed”, he said.

    Because of the incident, Bacolod said that the police’s Security Agencies and Guards Supervision Division (SAGSD) is studying possible administrative sanctions to security guards detailed during the robbery.

    Someone is making an assumption that mall security guards are well trained, can differentiate bad guys from civilians, and that they can shoot straight.

  12. “Someone is making an assumption that mall security guards are well trained, can differentiate bad guys from civilians, and that they can shoot straight.”


    Security agencies charge a lot for these security guards. For the kind of money paid to the agencies, it should be assumed that they are well-trained and can shoot straight.

    As a matter of fact, security agencies are big business. And many, if not most, of them are owned and operated by high-ranking retired military and police officers.

    Of course, we can assume that, out of the money that malls pay the agency, only a small portion goes to training, hardware and to the personnel. The lion’s share goes to the pockets of these retired officers. After all, old habits from the Armed Forces and the PNP die hard.

  13. The dead robber is identified as 32 yr old CAFGU from Isabela. Review of CCTVs diclosed that the group entered into the mall as customers and changed into their bomb squad uniform inside a parked van. There may have been 11 involved with 7 going into the Rolex store and the rest as lookouts, blocking force and exit units.

    The run of the mill execution is pinned down on Alvin Flores, a dismissed officer with SWAT experience. His group is responsible for 60 violent killings including the Paranaque shootout that killed 18 (12 were robbers). The robbery is usually over by 5 minutes. Critical specialty of the group is their multiple exit points and rapid escape once a shot is fired to avoid entrapment by any responding police force (like the one in Paranaque with various police units involved). The make up of the group raiding team which could reach up to 20 is unknown until the day of briefing, distribution of weapons and the robbery. Alvin tapped ex military/police for efficiency. Since he operates from Luzon to Mindanao, his cooling place following the robbery is far from the recent operation and has avoided detection once the authorities are hot on his trail.

  14. Oct 30 Update:

    Combined NBI agents from Manila and Cebu engaged and killed Alvin Flores and another 3 inside the beach resort 25 kms north of Cebu. The local police was not even aware of the NBI operation until after the shootout and were only allowed to enter the compound few hours later for retrieval of the bodies.

    Despite a wide manhunt by the PNP, it is believed that Alvin Flores had never been caught because of various tipsters from authorities and police.

    It was not an easy task for the NBI since the place (north of Cebu) is a tourist destination and also smugglers fave R&R with local protection.

    This is probably one operation that NBI agents had to wear masks to keep their identities.

  15. Heard of the Robbery @ Greenbelt 5, reminds me of the attempted snatching of my daughter(s) bag, etc. Last August 10/09′. That group was very organized also, meaning more than one snatcher/perpetrator, possibly 10 or more we were told. When identified (as in foiled attempt) the “snatcher” was very angry; coming back around directly towards myself in an attempt to get to my daughter(s). This happened at 5:00pm inside a very busy Glorietta, Makati. “Glad to hear some of the robbers were hunted down; Kudos to the NBI team who acted so quickly.” Now the “living” captured member needs to be interrogated and the “Head” of this organization prosecuted with extreme prejudice to send a STRONG message to any and all organized criminal groups operating in the Philippines. “These criminal activities are not going to be tolerated any longer; the Philippines is CLOSED to ALL criminals,(politically connected or otherwise). When this happens the Philippines can then once again look at becoming the strong Asian Tiger it once was.(Read pre Dictator era)!

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