CEBU, Philippines — Did the police commit lapses in the deaths of four out-of-town men who were among those accused of robbing P136 million worth of cash and jewelry from five establishments inside Mandaue City’s J Centre Mall on Saturday night?
The Commission on Human Rights-7 hopes to get an answer as it launches an investigation into the deaths of the four alleged robbers under police custody.
CHR-7 Director Arvin Odron said that pursuant to his office’s constitutional mandate, he will look into the surrounding circumstances and verify if the police followed the well-established rules of engagement when they shot the victims dead.
“It’s a sad reality that the operations of the police ended that way,” he said.
Odron said considering that lives were lost, the agency wants to ensure that no abuses were committed in the hands of government authorities.
“No worries for the police, we will hear their side, too,” he added.
It can be recalled that seven suspects were first intercepted by the police at the Polambato Wharf in Bogo City, some 95 kilometers north of Mandaue City, before midnight Sunday, just about three hours after the heist.
Police effected the arrest after the seven allegedly matched the descriptions on the men who stormed the mall earlier. They reportedly looked suspicious as some were sweating and one of them was wounded.
When the seven were escorted to the police station for further investigation, three of them allegedly wrestled the firearms of the accompanying cops, prompting the latter to shoot.
The three did not make it alive to the hospital. They were later identified as Kevin Andales, 25, of Misamis Occidental; Wilfredo Suerte Enguito, 47, of Tangub City; and Philip Faburada of Tondo, Manila.
Their companions were identified as Roel Nano Sumingit, 35, of Misamis Occidental; Jun Candelaria, 38, of Bicol; Julivyn Quirante, 43, of Tangub City; and Arnel Cimafranca, 38, of Misamis Occidental.
The fourth fatality was a man named Glen Tairos, the suspected leader of the robbery group, who was supposed to be picked up at the wharf by a certain James Anthony “Macky” Gomez, a resident of Sogod, three towns away from Bogo.
Gomez was escorted by the police to Polambato but when they arrived there, Tairos allegedly fired his gun, which prompted the police to retaliate and hit the latter.
Police confiscated from Tairos a .38 caliber revolver; cash amounting to P340,000; two chisels; and two glass cutters.
Tairos was said to be a remnant of the Alferez criminal group based in Ozamiz City. In February this year, he was also said to have led a group that robbed an establishment in Liloan town.
Cebu Provincial Police Office Director Colonel Roderick Mariano said the arrested suspects admitted their involvement in the string of robbery incidents in Bacolod City, including a mall and certain pawnshops there.
CHR-7 chief investigator Leo Villarino said that their agency will conduct a motu proprio investigation upon the directive of their head office.
Villarino said they will ask documents from the police and go to the areas where the robbery and the alleged scuffle between the suspects and the police happened.
Police, for their part, have embraced CHR’s plan to investigate, vowing to cooperate with the agency.
“We always anticipate that anytime there will be an investigation that will be conducted,” said Colonel Ildibrande Usana, deputy director for administration at the Police Regional Office-7.
This early, though, Usana maintained that the local police followed proper procedures.
Colonel Jonathan Abella, chief of Mandaue City Police Office, said a manhunt is still on for the four other suspects believed to be still in Cebu who were allegedly in possession of the loot valued at about P136 million.
The four were only identified by their aliases: Mark, Ryan, Toni Boy, and Ranger.
Guards under probe
Meanwhile, all security personnel on duty at J Centre on Saturday evening are considered persons of interest in the case, according to Usana.
The security guards will be invited for questioning to shed light on the matter.
Usana said that the mall is known to implement strict security measures, but the same cannot be said on the night of the incident considering that the armed suspects were able to barge inside the building.
“It seemed that the security was lax because by the sheer number of the suspects alone, more or less 13 to 14, that’s too many not to get noticed. So it’s surprising,” he told reporters in Tagalog.
Usana added that authorities are not discounting the possibility of an inside job in the investigation.
Aside from interrogating the guards, police will also review CCTV footages that may have captured the incident.
Robbers entered from back
Yesterday, the Mandaue City Peace and Order Council chaired by Mayor Jonas Cortes convened to assess the security measures adopted by the mall management, as well as that of the Mandaue police.
Gaspar Malanguis and John Go, the mall security manager and operations head, respectively, said that as a policy, they do not allow roving guards, as well as policemen in uniform, to bring firearms into the mall.
Malanguis also said that although their front entrance is manned by two security guards, the back entrance only has one as part of the mall’s cost-cutting measures.
To Mayor Cortes, this was a lapse on the part of the management.
“Mao na nga kamo giistudyuhan gyud mo sa mga tulisan kay ing-ana ka lax ang inyong security. Didto niagi ang mga tulisan sa luyo diin usa ra ang inyong security guard (That’s why you were targeted because your security was lax. The robbers entered from behind),” Cortes said.
Go explained that the no armed guard or policeman policy is only a matter of management discretion.
“That’s just our policy. But if the city government of Mandaue, let us say an ordinance, tells us that roving guards should bring firearms inside the mall, or dapat ipadala gyud ang pusil sa police sa sulod sa mall, then we will follow,” Go said.
Mandaue police will meet Friday with all mall operators and similar establishments at risk for robbery to determine their security measures, as well as their evacuation plans.
Finally, Usana also commended the “alertness” of the local PNP in arresting the suspects just about three hours after the robbery transpired.
He described the suspects as people who were willing to fight it off with the authorities.
“Sabi nga po sa Tagalog ay hindi po sila papahuli nang buhay. In the process, they were overpowered by our police officers who were alert that time when the incident happened,” he said. — With Rowena D. Capistrano (FREEMAN)