MANILA -- On December 28, 2009, seven employees from the Department of Education, Rizal Division where on their way to distribute Christmas bonuses to the public school teachers of Rodriguez, Rizal. They had with them P4.9 million worth of cash.
As they were traversing Concepcion Uno, Marikina City, two men on a motorcycle signalled the driver of their van to stop. One of the men who introduced himself as a policeman claimed that they were riding an unregistered vehicle.
“Naka-camouflage na short lang siya tapos t-shirt na white,” recalls “Luiz”, one of the employees.
“Sabi niya, sige, sasamahan ko kayo sa police station. Parang ititimbre na kami ay hindi registered ‘yung vehicle, ganun. Tapos sumakay na siya.”
The employees didn’t think anything was wrong with the situation until they noticed the man leading them to the wrong direction.
“Kinabahan na ako. Sabi ko bakit nakalagpas kami,” says Luiz.
Then out of nowhere, the man declared a holdup.
“Lahat kami, kinakabahan. Andun na sa spinal cord ko ‘yung kaba,” Luiz says. “Hindi kami makapagsalita kasi may baril [siya]. Iilan lang kami.”
The situation tensed up further when the man told the driver, Eric Gicole, to turn off the engine. When the latter did not follow, the robber hit him with the butt of his gun.
The man took all of their wallets, jewelries, and mobile phones. Also stolen was the P4.9 millon cash, meant for public school teachers.
After getting the cash, the man sped of with his accomplice who was waiting on the motorcycle.
They group immediately went to the Marikina Police to report the incident. Unfortunately, none of them could identify the suspects.
For almost four months, authorities had no lead on the case. Until one day, the driver of the van went missing.
On the same month, the National Bureau of Investigation received a report about the kidnapping of one Allan Bilbao.
“Ang taong nawawala, pinapaimbestigahan kasi under mysterious circumstance,” explains NBI Special Investigator Anna Labao.
During the investigation, the authorities discovered that Bilbao was with another man, a certain Albert Mata, when he went missing.
Mata, as it turns out, was involved in different criminal cases.
They were able to trace Mata’s girlfriend who agreed to help them in an entrapment operation.
During the entrapment operation, Mata tried to elude the authorities but ended up surrendering to them.
With Mata’s arrest, authorities have unwittingly unlocked the mystery behind the DEPED robbery.
The plot thickens
At the NBI headquartes, the authorities questioned Mata about Bilbao’s whereabouts. According to Mata, Bilbao was already dead. What he confessed next surprised the investigators.
Bilbao’s killer, Mata says, was none other than Eric Gicole, the driver of the van that was held up on December 28, 2009.
The details of his sworn statement was even more surprising.
Mata confessed that he was actually there during the robbery—he was the man who pretended to be a policeman. Their accomplice, Freddie Saldana, was the one driving their getaway motorcycle. Eric Gicole was the mastermind behind the whole robbery.
After they fled the scene, that’s were everything began to go wrong.
“Matapos itong DEPED robbery, ay nagpahinga [si Mata] sa isang hotel,” says Special Investigator Labao.
“Meron siyang tao na nabigyan ng kaunting halaga pero inamin niya na inonse niya ‘yung grupo niya at pagkatapos ay nag-happy-happy siya.”
However, months later, Gicole’s group caught up with Mata.
On April 22, 2010, while Mata, Bilbao, and Saldana were at a restaurant in Paranaque, a group of men arrived and took them away.
Turning the tables
Mata and Bilbao were taken to a hideout in San Mateo, Rizal.
“Itinali siya,” says Special Investigator Labao.
“Ipinasusuka [sa kanya] lahat ‘yung pera pero ayaw niya nga, nagmamatigas siya.”
When Mata refused to disclose where the money was, Gicole ordered his men to kill Bilbao.
After disposing of Bilbao’s body, Gicole momentarily left the hideout. Mata saw this as an opportunity to escape. He convinced Gicole’s men to free him.
In exchange for his freedom, he promised to divide the stolen cash among them.
After a few hours, Gicole returned to the hideout, and Mata killed him.
“Hinataw niya ito ng isang malaking kahoy sa ulo,” says Special Investigator Labao.
“Pagbagsak nito ay pinagpapalo niya hanggang sa nawalan ng malay.”
Alberta Mata, Freddie Saldana, and Eric Gicole were all charged with robbery for the incident where P4.9M worth of cash were taken from the DEPED employees.
Meanwhile, Gicole, Jojo Gicole, Marlon Altizio alyas Quadro and an Alyas Ada where charged with murder for the killing of Allan Bilbao.
Mata and Saldana are also facing murder raps for the killing of Gicole.