An inside job

The CCTV footage of the Jan. 3 East West Bank robbery was shown on national television last night, and audiences all over the country witnessed the clockwork precision with which the heist was carried out at about 6 o’ clock p.m. It was over in a little over 2 minutes. An estimated P12 million in cold cash was carted away by the armed robbers. It appears that after 10 days, the police remain clueless.

For a while, the police looked like it had snared one of the culprits. But the lone suspect who was picked up for questioning — Isidra Ladesma — had to be released when the security guard who had pointed to her as the female accomplice who lured him into coming out of the bank refused to sign his affidavit. It is not clear what made the security guard balk at the last second on his statements to investigators that Ladesma was the woman.

One thing is clear to me, however. This is an inside job. And I would venture to add that the perpetrators even had police connections. I must make clear this is an amateur’s analysis of the crime based on available information. The robbery was so daring, and so innovative. This is the first time I heard an armed robbery staged after the bank had closed its doors to customers. The ease with which it was carried out tells me it was scripted. And if Ladesma is indeed innocent, it might even involve a deliberate ploy to throw the police off-track.

First is the question of timing. Who could have known that at about 6 p.m., an armored car would deliver a huge amount of cash? As shown on the CCTV footage, the piles of cash had not yet been counted on the teller’s “cage”. Clearly, the robbers had advance information. It wasn’t a lucky strike. The robbers knew they’d find the money right where they were told it would be. And this makes everybody in the premises suspects. Days before the robbery, it was already determined the crime would take place just when the armored car made its delivery of pick-up deposits, which was also known to be huge because of the long New Year holiday.

With this information, police investigators should be taking down statements from bank officials and employees. It should center on who could have known about the armored car delivery and the time of arrival. The police will have to look into the backgrounds of each bank official and employee. What are their vices? How are their finances? This is the kind of police work that needs to be done.

Second, a review must be done of how the security guard was supposedly lured into stepping out of the bank, thereby giving the robbers the few seconds of opportunity to overpower him and barge into the premises. Were there other guards posted at the door? The standard operating procedure for banks is to keep the door locked even during banking hours to prevent rush-ups. Was it a case of the Trojan horse tactic? Is it SOP for the guard to open the door to assist somebody at the ATM machine, especially with so much money lying exposed at the tellers cage? This is a window that lasted only one minute at the most, but this is an area that must be scrutinized second by second.

Third is the raid on Ladesma’s house. Who gave the police the tip to pounce on her? With what has happened, I’m starting to entertain a suspicion it was a set-up. And again, the security guard’s behavior is even the more suspect. Was it a scripted drama for the police to raid Ladesma’s house and then bring the witness over to positively identify her? As a result of the brouhaha over Ladesma, the police appears to have focused on her for several days. That short period is more than enough for the real criminals to make good their escape from Iloilo, and even Panay island. This tells me a police insider may be involved.

I can understand why C/Supt. Cipriano Querol, Jr. is pissed off at the unfolding of events. In the three months that he’s been here as Regional Director of the PNP Regional Office 6, he has worked so hard to fight criminality, particularly illegal drugs in Iloilo City and the entire region. And then, in just two minutes, the good work that he has done is tarnished by this daring armed robbery. It isn’t just an ordinary syndicate that confronts him on this case. The crime was professional done, and it is clear the robbers got plenty of help from inside and outside.

Right now, that P12 million horde must have been split up among the participants. It is hard to expect the police to still be able to recover the loot. But C/Supt. Querol should not let this be consigned to the dustbin of “unsolved crimes”. He should devote more resources, including help from other law enforcement agencies, so that he can dig to the bottom of the case.

About Manuel "Boy" Mejorada
Manuel "Boy" Mejorada is a journalist and social media activist. A former Iloilo provincial administrator, he is now waging a crusade against corruption and narco-politics.

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