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Conspiracy theory

It’s been a week since a lone perpetrator used a lock-pick to force open my car door and stole my laptop computer and favorite defense weapon, a Glock 26 9mm pistol. I haven’t heard anything from the police, although I was told they had a suspect based on the modus operandi. And as I was sipping a cup of hazelnut brew at Coffeebreak Gaisano, I was approached by Manny Gruenberg to let me know he was also hit in similar fashion at the guarded parking lot of “The Avenue” only two days before it happened to me.

That left me wondering if the police has the capability to solve car break-ins like this, as it would appear the culprit, who obviously wasn’t working alone, has been doing this a number of times. The method used is more refined now; in previous cases, the culprits smashed the car window open to gain access. It was a crude method that increased their risk of being caught. In fact, several suspects were indeed caught, only to go free on bail. A degree of sophistication has been introduced to their modus operandi: pick-locks are now being used.

It looks like the criminals are always a step or two ahead of the police. And as I write this, I heard a TV report about how a suspect just snatched in broad daylight the digital camera of two people who were posing for souvenir photographs in Iloilo City. Worse, it was reported that the complaint filed against the suspects in the East West Bank robbery was dismissed by the City Prosecutors Office on a technicality. The criminals are indeed ahead in the game, and are getting bolder and bolder.

But this boldness doesn’t remove that nasty feeling that I was a target of a well-planned “hit”. Almost everybody — even the security guards at the West Visayas State University where it happened —- tells me I must have been followed, or the culprits knew exactly where I would be, at what time, and how long the car would be left unattended. It makes sense. March 18 was a public holiday, and there wasn’t supposed to be classes at the WVSU. Moreover, the school year had ended. I was just there to take the final exams in a graduate school subject.

As described by witnesses, it didn’t take more than 2 minutes. The culprit casually walked toward my parked vehicle and peered inside through the tinted window glass. He was verifying the object of the planned theft was there; he must have seen me leaving the vehicle without my knapsack bag in which I kept my laptop. Then he took out his tools and picked the door lock mechanism. Seconds later, he opened it and got the laptop bag. But then he saw a smaller bag; my Glock pistol was in it. A bonus.

Now that a week has passed, I am pessimistic about the items being recovered, and the culprit, and the brains behind it, caught. But I am worried that this incident will only embolden the underworld into carrying out more crimes. The police seems helpless in cracking these cases. The reasons are many why this is so: lack of training in investigatve, inadequate logistical support, poor motivation and plain indifference about their job. This is a reason murders in broad daylight can just happen. This is a reason bank robberies take place so routinely.

I can live with the theft of these items. And whoever plotted this will not succeed in silencing my voice on issues affecting the community. But the incident should be an eye-opener for everybody to the reality that nobody is safe anymore. The only way to change that is for the police to shake things up and introduce reforms in its organization and the way it does police work.

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The East-West Bank robbery: a media perspective

The daring dusk robbery of the East West Bank on Jan. 3 — the first banking day of the year  — gave local media enough ammunition to keep the community locked-on to the story for an entire week. It was a textbook execution of a robbery: a woman walks over to the ATM machine in front of the bank, fumbles with her card and pretends that it was captured. She signals to a guard that she needs help. The guard opens the door to come over and assist; quickly three armed accomplices overpower the guard and barges inside the bank to stage the robbery. One teller presses the alarm, but her motion was detected by one robber and is shot in the leg. The group scoops up a newly delivered cache of money and runs away. It was over in just over 2 minutes.

But what I’m going to write about isn’t about how the crime was committed. Rather, I’m putting down my thoughts in reaction to the manner a local radio station has been treating this story. To my mind, there is a disturbing slant to the reportage and commentary with which this station has handled the crime. I’m doing this with full knowledge that I’ll be in great peril of being misunderstood, and perhaps attacked over the airlanes. Still, I feel it is my obligation, as an old hand in media, to ventilate my observations. My motive is noble; I don’t mean to undermine anybody’s agenda.

What I find disconcerting is a seemingly orchestrated campaign to discredit the police investigation, especially after law enforcement authorities picked up a female suspect in Mina, Iloilo who was pinpointed by the guard as the woman who had sought his help. That very same evening, an anchorman/commentator of the station started raising questions about the manner the suspect was taken in for questioning. Procedural defects were already being insinuated. Hints were dropped about undue haste by the police to beat a 48-hour deadline set by City Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog.

I would not have minded the negative tone in the commentaries at all, but two or three days later, I heard a morning anchorman grilling the police city OIC-director, Senior Supt. Marieto Valerio, about the refusal of the guard to sign his affidavit under oath before the city prosecutor’s office. The anchorman tried to get Valerio to admit the police had made a mistake in picking up and detaining the female suspect. He made categorical statements that the police had brought in an innocent individual as a suspect.

What caught my interest was the insistent manner the anchorman tried to get Valerio to agree to his point of view — that the police had committed a faux pas, an elementary blunder in police work. The anchorman argued that the refusal of the guard to sign the affidavit, and a subsequent interview with the station in which he allegedly negated earlier statements pointing at the woman as member of the robbery group, is proof that she is innocent.

This is treading on dangerous ground. A mediaman shouldn’t be making conclusions based on flimsy statements. He isn’t even sure what’s the real reason why the guard, at the last moment, turned about face on his statements as a material witness to the case. It could be the guard was threatened. Or, it could even be the guard is in fact involved with the group. There are a thousand and one reasons why such retractions happen.

And even if he signed the affidavit, it’s not an iron-clad guarantee that it’s the full truth and nothing but the truth. Indeed, he could have told a lie, and signing an affidavit would not have made the lie the truth. Conversely, his refusal to sign the affidavit doesn’t also mean it’s not true.

Besides, it’s not just the guard who identified the woman as being at the crime scene. From what I heard, a taxi driver also ID’d her. So had two bank tellers. Hence, there is really no disproving the police theory that she was part of the criminal group. Of course, let me hasten that she is presumed innocent until proven in court to be guilty, if indeed she is. The suspect gave an alibi that she was somewhere else.

It bothers me that media can aggressively discredit an on-going investigation. It borders on mind-conditioning, so that the public will be led to believe the police is working on the wrong angle. Pardon me, my friends from this station, but this manner of reporting and commentary is not journalism. Crime investigations are the exclusive turf of the police. We have to keep in mind that the police will pursue all possible leads to solve a crime. That’s why it’s called an investigation. Small bits and pieces of evidence are put together to get a clear picture of what happened, who are involved, and other relevant data.

In a case like this, police have to move fast to track down leads before these cool down. When a person is picked up for questioning, it doesn’t mean he is the culprit. In many instances, police question dozens of probable suspects before they can pin down the culprit. It isn’t amusing to hear one anchor broadly suggesting that the woman charge the pollice for illegal detention. If that is how we conduct our work in media, then the police might be discouraged from doing investigation work rather than be castigated over the airlanes.

What the media should be watching out for is abuse of authority by police officers. When rights of the suspects are violated, such as when torture is employed, or evidence is caught as being planted, then media should definitely holler and complain. But this must not be done at the price of disorienting the focus of the police from what they are doing.