(UPDATE 4) Robbers hit luxury watch store in Makati mall

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 18 2009 12:58 PM | Updated as of Oct 19 2009 07:39 PM

1 suspect slain in shootout with Taguig mayor's security detail

MANILA - Heavily-armed thieves overpowered a posh mall’s security guards and broke into a shop selling high-end watches Sunday morning in the middle of the country’s premiere financial district.

A suspected robber was killed however by two police escorts of a city mayor who chanced upon the heist while the other gunmen escaped reportedly carting away an undetermined worth of expensive watches.

The armed robbery at the Rolex watch shop in Greenbelt 5 in Makati City was interrupted after 2 security escorts of Taguig City Mayor Sigfredo “Freddie” Tinga engaged the heavily-armed robbers.

One of the bodyguards of Tinga, who said he was in Greenbelt 5 for a lunch meeting, was able to “neutralize” one of the heavily-armed suspects who forcibly entered the Rolex store. Reports said 5 armed gunmen entered the store while 6 others served as look-outs at the mall.

“We were having lunch just outside that time we are actually waiting for some people and we heard an exchange of gunfire not realizing na it was actually our security people who were exchanging fire with the hold-uppers,” Tinga told ANC in an interview.

Smashing glass cases

The Taguig City mayor said that his two escorts, Senior Police Officer 1 Cesar Tiglao and PO1 Efren Ceniza, saw the suspects who were already inside the luxury watch shop smashing the glass cases of the store.

“So they chanced upon these guys. Even if they were wearing bomb squad uniforms, policemen in broad daylight don’t go around breaking down the windows of a shop… When that happened, iyon na nga, nag-react na iyong police namin. That started the fight,” said Tinga.

He said his escorts told him that the incident was noticeably irregular so his policemen reacted. Tinga also said that his escorts told him, the robbers were armed with high-powered firearms.

“Well they are saying: Nakita namin ito di ito regular, hold up ito. And after that nakipagputukan na,” said the city mayor.

“No training exercise”

Tiglao said the 2 members of his security detail were going up to the second floor of the mall when they looked at the ground floor and the shop.

“Binabasag nila ang display glass at nilalagay sa bag ang mga Rolex. Sabi ko...di gawain to ng matinong tao...kaya pinaputukan na namin,” said Tiglao.

"Pagtingin naming ganyan, sabi ko: ‘Pare di ito field training exercise. Totoo ito!’ Kaya pinutukan na namin agad,” said Tiglao.

The policeman said they tried to stop the ongoing heist by firing at the direction of the shop.

One of the suspects was shot dead by Ceniza in the head.

The armed robbers, however, returned fire and rained bullets on the two who hid behind a concrete column of the mall.

“Palitan kami ng putok. Noong naubusan na kami ng bala medyo lumayo kami ng kaunti,” said Ceniza in an interview.

High-powered firearms

According to reports, the suspects who wore police uniforms carried M14 and M16 automatic rifles as well as a grenade launcher.

“Puro high-powered firearms. Iyong isa nilang nabaril actually had a grenade launcher, an M203. These are not just petty criminals,” said Tinga.

The suspect who was killed was wearing a black shirt with EOD (Explosive Ordinance Division) printed at the back of the shirt. The slain robber has not yet been identified. Reportedly recovered from the slain robber was a caliber .45 pistol and the grenade launcher.

A waiter was reportedly injured in the shootout but the report has yet to be confirmed.

Firefight

Tiglao and Ceniza said the firefight lasted about 5 minutes before the armed suspects made their escape leaving behind the body of one of the robbers.

ABS-CBN correspondent Ricky Carandang said he saw people running away from Greenbelt 5 after gunfire erupted inside the mall before noon.

“Gunfire was heard all over and people were running away from the general direction of the gunfire. And security here in Ayala has managed to clear that part of the mall where the gunfire happened,” said Carandang, who was in the area when the incident occurred.

Authorities temporarily closed Greenbelt 5 as Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO) conducted its investigation. Media men were also barred from entering the mall.

Reports said that 11 suspects, one of whom was a woman, were involved in the robbery. Five of them reportedly served as lookouts on the second floor.

Escaped

The robbers, meanwhile, after the shootout with Tinga’s escorts, reportedly went to the mall’s basement parking for their escape.

A police source said the robbers were able to cart away an undetermined number of watches.

Two vehicles - a Honda Civic and a Toyota Corolla - suspected to have been used by the robbers in their getaway from the mall have reportedly been recovered by police in Lapu-Lapu street in Magallanes area. A report said police were still looking for a black Isuzu Bighorn purportedly also used in the robbers’ getaway.

Police were still conducting pursuit operations, said Makati City police chief Senior Superintendent Cedric Train.

Briefly held

A customer of the luxury watch store meanwhile narrated how he was held briefly by the armed thieves.

"Raymond" said he was with his wife and their baby at the Rolex store in Greenbelt 5 in Makati, when the armed men entered the store.

Even as the armed men were already smashing display cases to get the watches, Raymond said he was still able to lead his wife and child out of the store. He was however prevented from leaving by one of the armed suspects, and was held briefly by the suspects.

"Mga five minutes, naka-grab siya sa right shoulder ko, and then habang lumalaban ako, sabi niya sa akin, 'mamaya, mamaya,'" he said.

He was later released by the gunmen.

The brazen day-time shootout at the Greenbelt 5 mall in the Makati financial district caused panicked shoppers and diners to barricade themselves inside shops and restaurants, witnesses said.

"We saw some armed men wearing uniforms similar to the ones used by police bomb squad personnel and they started hammering the showcases," said Stephanie Shier, the manager of a clothes retailer near the watch shop.

"I and some customers went inside the stockroom and afterward we heard gunshots for about five minutes," she told reporters.

Security

Security at the mall was put into question after the incident.

"Raymond," the customer who was briefly held by the gunmen, criticized the security at the posh mall.

"Pag shoplifter hindi mo talaga malalaman, this kind of people na nakapasok biglaan lang, hindi mo man lang sinita, hindi napansin o pinigilan, Very disappointing talaga, pano kung may iba pang taong nadamay," he said.

He said he and his family were traumatized by the incident.

Tiglao and Ceniza also said that there were no mall security personnel who came to help them during their shootout with the armed men.

They also cited the “loose security” at the entrance.

“Nagtaka ako bakit niluwagan kami at saka walang tao rin sa pintuan,” said Tiglao.

An Ayala Land official, however, told dzMM that 6 gunmen overpowered the mall guards and “forced their way in at gunpoint.”

“They were able to overpower the guards at the mall entrance… other security [guards] were able to respond immediately… They were heavily armed and they forced their way in at gunpoint,” George Marco, head of Ayala Land’s corporate communications, said.

During the robbery, customers were told to “remain where they were at the time of the incident,” he said.

“We assure you that we have ample security at the mall. And we would like to assure customers that our malls remain safe. I guess iyong mga suspects na ito, aside from ‘yong dami nila, they were heavily armed. They have long arms,” he said.

Ayala Land, which manages the Greenbelt 5 mall, in a text message, said that its Greenbelt 5 security guards were able to immediately report to its head office which immediately verified that the suspects were not legitimate bomb squad members and that there was no schedule of a bomb squad inspection at the mall.

The mall management, in the message, said “other guards from the mall responded immediately causing robbers to flee.”

The mall’s management also said that it has been cooperating with police in its investigation. Greenbelt 5 resumed operations at 6 p.m. Other Greenbelt malls remained open during the incident.

To recommend promotion

Meanwhile, Tinga said he would recommend an on-the-spot promotion to his security escorts for their “sense of duty” in immediately responding.

“They could just turn away… I am sending a recommendation for promotion. I’m going to recommend them for doing their job,” said Tinga.

The two escorts were told to report to the Taguig City police chief for debriefing after the two talked with Makati City police investigators.

“Possible surge”

Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay, in a statement after the incident, meanwhile suggested that authorities “should anticipate a possible surge in brazen and high-profile criminal activities because of the hard times, especially after typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng.”

Binay said the brazenness of the recent incident “is alarming” as it occurred almost noontime and in one of the posh malls of the financial district.

Binay said the incident “highlights the importance of vigilance and preparedness.”

Police were still investigating the incident and have not identified the suspects. With reports from Ricky Carandang, ABS-CBN News Channel, Ricky Velasco and Rod Izon, radio dzMM, Jam Alindogan, Willard Cheng and Apples Jalandoni, ABS-CBN News and Agence France-Presse