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Bank robbers massacre 10

Ed Amoroso - The Philippine Star

CABUYAO, Laguna – Nine bank employees and a security guard were lined up and shot dead yesterday in what police described as one of the bloodiest bank robberies in history.

Nine of the victims were found sprawled on the floor of a branch of the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) in Barangay Pulo here, after the bank failed to open as scheduled at 9 a.m., triggering the suspicion of customers who alerted the police, according to Calabarzon regional police director Chief Superintendent Ricardo Padilla.

The 10th victim, also a ranking employee of the bank, succumbed to gunshot wounds in the head while being treated at the St. James Hospital.

Police identified the victims as Roberto Panganiban Castro, the bank’s branch manager; Ferdinand Bernard Antonio, bank teller Benjamin Manalo Nicdao Jr., bank commercial manager Bernardo Lapaan Jr., operations assistant Noel Olaes Miranda, janitor Juan Marza Layva and security guard Aguilando Baltazar.

The two female victims were Olga Gonzalez and Teresita Umayao.

The bank’s customer relations manager Isagani Pastor later died at the hospital.

All were found sprawled on the floor with a single gunshot wound to their heads. Two bodies were found inside the open bank vault.

Police said the bodies showed no bruises or other signs that they resisted.

“This is the handiwork of the devil and we will not let this pass,” Padilla said. “They were killed in a gangland-style execution – each of the victims shot in the head while lined up.”

Padilla said the robbers were probably inside the bank before the employees showed up.

He said the assailants could have used silencers because residents in the area heard no gunshots coming from the bank.

Investigators also learned two of the security guards were missing.

Police also found out that the closed circuit security cameras of the bank had been turned off, raising suspicions that the missing guards assigned to the morning shift were involved in the killings.

But one of the guards later showed up at the bank and was being questioned by investigators, police said.

Padilla identified the missing guard as Joel de la Cruz.

Laguna police chief Senior Superintendent Felipe Rojas added there was no sign of forcible entry, but the bank’s backdoor was open.

“They (robbers) were probably here early morning,” he said.

“There was no reason why they should kill the employees, so most probably they knew one or two of the robbers.”

The number of robbers wasn’t immediately clear, but Rojas said “many” took part “because this was a very complex operation.”

Police recovered empty bullet shells of .9mm and super .38 calibers.

Rojas said Philippine and US currency worth $10,000 was found strewn on the floor of the bank, but the amount taken by the robbers was not immediately known.

“Definitely, (they) took more” than what they left behind, Rojas said.

RCBC vice president Edwin Ermita said the killers tried to hide the body of Baltazar under a tarpaulin in the rear of the bank. The bank is located at the Laguna Industrial Science Park (LISP), in an isolated area surrounded by vacant lots and an open field in front.

Police said the vehicle owned by Nicdao, a Mitsubishi Adventure van with license plate XHS 341, was used by the robbers to escape. It was later abandoned in Barangay Turbina, several kilometers away.

Rojas said the vehicle will be checked for fingerprints.

‘Disturbing’

News of the gruesome massacre reached President Arroyo who ordered the police to track down the killers.

“The President would like to extend her deepest sympathies to the families of all the fatalities in the gruesome and senseless killing in Cabuyao, Laguna,” Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Lorelei Fajardo told reporters.

“She has ordered the immediate and thorough investigation of the incident so that those responsible will be brought before the bar of justice,” Fajardo added.

Laguna Gov. Teresita Lazaro, for her part, offered a P100,000 reward for the arrest of the suspects as the Calabarzon regional police formed a task force led by Fojas to track down the killers.

Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. also offered a P100,000 bounty for the arrest of the suspects.

“I am offering (this) reward money to anyone who could lead us to the capture of the persons behind this heinous crime. All he or she has to do is coordinate with the Philippine National Police. I hope this will speed up the solving of the case,” he said.

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Amando Tetangco denounced the killings, describing it as “disturbing.”

“Extremely disturbing acts like these are an assault on the security of banking institutions that can harm public confidence,” Tetangco said.

Tetangco noted the bloody RCBC robbery took place a few days after the Manila Bank heist where the robbers killed a bank depositor and two policemen.

Finance Secretary Margarito Teves said the spate of bank robberies poses a serious threat to national security.

Teves underscored the need for all banks to review their respective security systems to prevent such incidents.

“Banks should be more vigilant and make sure their alarm systems are working and their security video are on to identify perpetrators,” he said.

Teves also expressed condolences to the families of the victims of the robbery.

The Bankers Association of the Philippines (BAP) also expressed indignation over the incident.

BAP executive director Leonilo Coronel said the robbery of the RCBC branch in Laguna was carried out in a very unusual and alarming style.

“Casualties related to bank robberies usually result from shoot-outs or hostage situations but never like this,” Coronel said. “It’s inhuman. It’s disturbing.”

Coronel said bank personnel are usually non-confrontational in such situations and this level of violence is not necessary.

He said bank employees are not trained to engage in such situations.

Neither would banks want to resort to extreme security measures that would only spur an escalation of violence.

“This is really something for the police,” Coronel said. “But we hope this is an isolated incident. It’s something beyond anything we’ve contemplated.”

On the other hand, Rojas said the RCBC robbery in Laguna bore a style similar to one carried out by a bank guard in Marikina two years ago where he initially allowed the employees to come in before staging the heist.

Rojas though admitted the brutality of the robbery remains a puzzle to investigators.

“We surmised that the suspects killed all the bank employees because they are known to them,” he said.

He said bank robberies are common but rarely as bloody as yesterday’s incident. Rojas said this was the worst in the country’s history.  – With Non Alquitran, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Marvin Sy, Jaime Laude, Christina Mendez, Des Ferriols, AP

BANK

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