MANILA, Philippines - A suspected robber died and seven others were wounded in a mall robbery and bank explosion that happened simultaneously at the Madrigal business district in Muntinlupa City yesterday morning.
The fatality, identified as Pepito Paler, was one of the five men seen robbing a bank teller in Alabang Town Center (ATC) at about 10:05 a.m., or an hour before the mall opens.
The bank teller had just alighted from an armored van and was about to deliver a backpack full of money to Czarina Foreign Exchange when Paler threw a hand grenade. It did not explode, giving time for the security guards to engage the robbers in a shootout.
“The teller and (the) companion got frightened, ran away, and left the bag behind. The security guards, meanwhile, fired shots at Paler and his accomplices,” said Senior Superintendent Rolando Asuncion. The amount of money taken by Paler’s alleged accomplices – three robbers fled on two motorcycles driven by two other men – has yet to be determined.
Security guards Lope Bacomo and Alexander Sablado, brought to the hospital for gunshot wounds, are in stable condition.
A bullet-riddled orange Mitsubishi sedan was found abandoned near the mall. Police are checking who owns the car.
This is the second time this year that armed robbers attacked personnel of armored vans just as they were about to deliver money to a branch of Czarina Foreign Exchange at the ATC.
Last February, members of Ozamis robbery group also tried to rob the foreign exchange’s branch in ATC’s Alabang-Zapote entrance but was foiled by a security guard, police said. The guard and a suspected robber died in the encounter.
Yesterday’s gunfight lasted about 15 minutes, said 77-year-old Japanese national Tsuyoshi Kishikawa, who was heading toward the Czarina Foreign Exchange shop when the firefight started. He said he had just parked his car near the Madrigal Avenue mall entrance when he heard gunshots.
“I was about to alight from the car when I heard the ‘bang, bang, bang’ from everywhere. So, I ducked and hid,” Kishikawa told The STAR as he re-enacted what happened.
Chief Inspector Giovanni Martinez, intelligence unit head of the Muntinlupa police, said they have yet to pinpoint the groups possibly involved in the heist.
At about the same time, a branch of Sterling Bank of Asia, located 150 meters from the mall, was hit by what police believe was a rifle grenade. The explosion shattered the bank’s glass walls and doors.
Like the mall, the bank is surrounded by several business establishments. Five people, including three bank personnel and two security guards, were reportedly wounded and rushed to the Asian Hospital and Medical Center.
Chief Superintendent Benito Estipona, director of the Southern Police District, said investigators are still looking into the possible connection of the two incidents.
Muntinlupa Mayor Aldrin San Pedro asked National Capital Region Police Office director Chief Superintendent Leonardo Espina to provide the city with additional police officers so they can increase visibility. - By Aie Balagtas See and Non Alquitran (Philstar News Service, www.philstar.com)