Makati City turns into a warzone as the Philippine National Police clashes with a group of suspected bank robbers.
On August 28, 2008, PO3 Rommel Salcedo and his partner PO3 Warren Balang set out early to patrol around Makati City as part of Oplan Bangko, a project launched by the Makati City Police to deter the growing number of bank robberies in the country.
“Iniikutan ng pulis natin ‘yan lalo na ‘pag banking hours dahil ‘yan ‘yung mga oras na pwede umi-strike ‘yung mga magnanakaw simula alas dyes hanggang kadalasan na nangyayari hanggang alas tres,” said Police Senior Superintendent Gilbert Cruz, former Makati Philippine National Police (PNP) chief.
Little did they know that while they were preparing for their rounds, a group of armed men was also preparing for a deadly mission. Equipped with high-caliber guns, the group had set off for Makati City.
At around 11:00 a.m., PO3 Salcedo received a text message that a suspicious maroon Tamaraw FX was seen around Makati Avenue. PO3 Salcedo and his partner responded to the scene.
At around 11:30 a.m., they sighted the said vehicle.
“’Pagdiretso namin, nag-go na ‘yung traffic tapos dumiretso din sila. Pagdating namin dun sa dulo, stop ulit tapos intersection tapos medyo pumorma ‘yung FX, medyo kinabahan na rin kami,” PO3 Salcedo said.
PO3 Salcedo and PO3 Balang decided to inspect the vehicle. But when they alighted their mobile, the passengers in the other vehicle opened fire.
At that moment, the area of JP Rizal corner Burgos St. in Makati City turned into a war zone.
Gunfire reverberated through the streets of JP Rizal and E. Burgos. PO3 Rommel and his partner tried to shield themselves from the armed men’s bullets but PO3 Balang had already been hit. PO3 Salcedo immediately called for back-up. A team from the Makati City Police Community Precinct 9 responded to the scene, but two men were already waiting for them.
“Akala namin friendly portion [‘yung dinatnan namin],” said PO2 Jose Andres Villarta of PCP 9, Makati Police. “Akala namin operatives lang na police na may operation diyan [ang nakita namin] kasi nga naka-bullet vest pa sila.”
Suddenly, the men opened fire.
“Dumapa na lang kami, gumapang kami at naghanap ng cover,” PO2 Villarta said. “Sunud-sunod na ‘yung putok sa amin.”
Meanwhile, PO3 Salcedo’s shotgun ran out of ammo. All he had with him was a 9mm pistol.
“Sunud-sunod na ‘yung putok. Sabi ko parang hindi na rin gumagalaw si classmate kaya umatras ako,” said PO3 Salcedo.
“Pumuporma [na] ‘yung naka-ArmaLite [rifle]. Sabi ko, laban na lang. Tapos dumapa ako. Paisa-isa na lang ang putok ko. Pagka wala pa ‘yung responde at maubusan ako ng bala, yari ako dito.”
After five munites of non-stop gunfire, the suspected bank robbers saw a window to escape.
“Habang tumatakbo ‘yung FX nila, pinaulanan pa ‘ko ng putok,” PO3 Salcedo said.
After the armed men left, PO3 Salcedo checked on his partner, PO3 Balang. He feared that the latter was fatally wounded and rushed him to the hospital. But he was declared dead-on-arrival.
|Shootout casualty. PO3 Warren Balang was rushed to the hospital but he was declared dead-on-arrival.
The chase ensues
Meanwhile, as the Makati Police chased the suspects’ vehicle, the Mandaluyong PNP prepared a dragnet operation.
“Si Col. Gilbert Cruz mismo ‘yung tumawag sa’kin at [sinabihan] niya ‘ko na diumano’y ‘yung mga tauhan niya ay mayroong hinahabol na mga suspek nga doon sa fold robbery sa UCPB sa may JP Rizal. ‘Yung aking tactical operation center, kaagad kong tinawagan,” said PO1 Sr/Supt. Carlos De Sagun, former chief, PNP-Mandaluyong City.
As the chase between the Makati Police and suspected bank robbers ensued, the latter careened towards Mabini St. in Mandaluyong City. The authorities almost had them until they began firing shots again.
This time, innocent civilians were hit.
Cesaria Palma was hit by a projectile from an M-203 grenade launcher, while Edwin Lachica’s house and car were damaged by bullets.
And in the midst of the chaos, the suspects found another opportunity to escape. They commandeered another vehicle and left behind their injured comrade. The latter hailed a tricycle and asked the driver to bring him to Las Piñas.
|War zone. A civilian takes a cellphone video of the chaos in the streets of Mandaluyong as the car chase between the police and the suspected bank robbers ensued.
“Nung nabanggit sa radyo na running gun battle between the Makati and Mandaluyong Police, nag-initiate na ako, ‘yung mga tao ko pumunta sa boundary, tumakbo kami sa Lambingan Bridge (Sta. Ana, Manila),” said Police Superintendent Frumencio Bernal III, Station Commander, Sta. Ana Police.
“Nung nandun na po kami, may nasita po kaming motor na mabilis pababa so hindi namin sukat akalain, chineck namin, nakita namin may nakasakay na duguan.”
Based on an identification card they recovered, the bloodied suspect in the vehicle was supposedly Noel Compoc, a reporter for a newspaper in Mindanao. They rushed him to the hospital but he was declared dead-on-arrival. Later on, the authorities found out that his real name was Jimmy Espina, and that the ID was fake.
At that point, a team from the Southern Police District Scene of Crime Operations had begun combing the area in Makati City where the shootout took place.
“Nagkalat ‘yung mga basyo ng bala ng M16 at ng shotgun shells,” said Police Senior Inspector Sharon Fabros, former team leader, SPD SOCO-Makati. “Pati may mga sasakyan doon, tatlong klase ng sasakyan, na may mga tama ng baril at may mga dugo rin dun sa gitnang part ng kalye. Naka-recover kami ng limang piraso ng shotgun shells, isang bala ng M16 at 30 pieces basyo ng M16.”
At the same time, a team from the Eastern Police District SOCO had begun processing the abandoned maroon Tamaraw FX with plate number TPN485. They recovered an arsenal of high-caliber weapons.
They also recovered two guns and a grenade launcher inside the Mazda taxi that the suspects commandeered.
|Armed and dangerous. The authorities recovered several high-caliber firearms inside the suspects’ getaway vehicles.
At the Manila-Mandaluyong boundary, the Manila Police District SOCO processed a blue Tamaraw FX with plate number WCZ593. It was commandeered by one of the suspects, Rodolfo Jimenez.
In all of the vehicles they recovered, the authorities were able to get latent prints which they sent to the laboratory for processing. They also traced the owner of the suspects’ primary getaway vehicle.
“Naka-register sa isang taga-Buhayang Bato sa Cavite,” PO1 Senior Superintendent De Sagun said. “[Tapos] nang aming i-trace ulit ‘yung tao, lumalabas na naibenta na muli ito sa isang tao na kung saan binili naman nila in good faith. ‘Yun po ang ginagawa ng mga modus operandi, in good faith binibili nila. Pagkatapos, fake naman ang ibibigay nilang pangalan.”
The authorities also verified the firearms the gunmen used and discovered that they were registered to a security agency.
Based on the evidence gathered, the authorities concluded that the suspects were professionals.
“Hindi po basta-basta sindikato lamang ‘yan sapagka't talaga po ‘yan ay pumapatay at papatay,” PO1 Senior Superintendent De Sagun said. “’Yan po ay aming nakikita na maaring kagagawan ng kagaya po ng Lahay-Lahay Group kagaya ng Alvin Flores Group, Colangco Group, mga splinters group ng Kuratong Baleleng.”
“Kasi ang Ampang Colangco at Kuratong, unang-una, marami kung tumira tapos high-powered lagi ang dala,” Police Senior Superintendent Cruz added. “[Pero] sa’kin kasi, ‘yung group, secondary. Dapat siguro imbestigahan muna natin kung sino talaga ang kasama kasi para hindi naliligaw ‘yung imbestigasyon.”
The authorities continued with their investigation and on November 21, 2008, the PNP Regional Police Intelligence Operations Unit launched an operation which was documented by the program, XXX.
Four suspected members of the notorious group roaming around Manila, robbing banks, were arrested. They were identified as Edgar Cayanan, Benjamin Centeno, Dioniso Espina, and their leader, Armando Dehino a.k.a. “Don-Don”.
PO3 Salcedo positively identified three of them as the gunmen they encountered on August 28.
On August 24, 2011, the four suspects were found guilty of unlawful possession of firearms and ammunition. Meanwhile, the murder charges against Centeno and Dehino are still being tried at the Makati RTC Branch 134.
Cayanan and Espina were also charged with attempted murder.
PO3 Salcedo still remembers fondly his partner, PO3 Balang, who died in the line of duty.
“Siguro kung nakapagpaputok siya, kung hindi kami naunahan, kahit papaano magkasama pa rin kami,” he said.
“Nagkataon lang na pagbaba pa lang, may naputok na sa’min. Siguro ‘pag oras mo na, ganun talaga.”