THE Philippine National Police leadership headed by Director General Ronald ‘Bato’ M. dela Rosa yesterday urged anew the public to be wary of the presence of so-called ‘Acetylene Gang’ or ‘Termite Gang’ members who specializes in digging holes leading to their targets like an unattended pawnshop, bank or even a supermarket this Christmas and New Year season.
In particular, the PNP leadership called on owners of apartment or business stalls near a pawnshop or a bank to double check the identities of persons who will try to rent their places and make huge monthly downpayments amid the possibility they could be robbers whose expertise is to dig a hole into their targets. In many instances, the thieves bore holes thru walls or floors to gain passage to their targets located near apartments or stalls they have rented. Some also pass thru drainage canals leading to banks or pawnshops.
Despite several high-profile arrests in the past, police are still recording cases in which professional thieves have quietly crawled into their targets in many parts of the country including Metro Manila. Officials said that in the past, many suspects arrested have turned out to be highland miners who shifted their search for gold in the mountains to urban areas where they dig their way into pawnshops or banks just like professional miners.
Usually, these thieves strike during the Yuletide Season and long weekends. In December last year, ‘Termite Gang’ members victimized the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. branch in Barangay Salinas IV in Bacoor City, Cavite where they stole some P1.5 million from the vault and the ATM machine.
The suspects disabled the bank’s alarm system and also covered the CCTV camera with mud. Police recovered an acetylene tank, a bolt-cutter and clothes worn by the suspects believed to be numbering around 5 to 7.
National Capital Region Police Office director, Chief Superintendent Oscar D. Albayalde, said the public in Metro Manila should be cautious of suspicious-looking persons who will try to rent an apartment, a house or a stall near a pawnshop or a bank. The suspects usually cover the sound of their secret excavation work with loud radio music even at night, said the former Quezon City Police District director.
For his part, PNP spokesman, Senior Supt. Dionardo B. Carlos said the PNP leadership is issuing the renewed security reminder taking note of several incidents when ‘tunnel robbers’ hit several targets in Metro Manila and in the provinces and carted away millions in cash and assorted pieces of jewelry over the past few years.
Carlos said that apart from round-the-clock police mobile and foot patrols in the streets particularly this coming Yuletide holidays, they also need the cooperation of owners of banks, pawnshops and other commercial establishments including apartments and business stalls in arresting these thieves.
The PNP chief said installing high-quality CCTV cameras and employing private security guards in these areas will help deter any attempt by the so-called ‘tunnel robbers’ since they usually hit unattended targets.
Although police have arrested several ‘tunnel robbers’ as they were trying to dig a hole leading to their targets in the past, officials have urged business establishment owners to be wary of the modus operandi of these expert drillers.
In some past cases, concerned citizens helped foil similar robbery attempts by immediately alerting barangay and police authorities. Many suspects who were arrested right inside the holes they were digging were found in possession of equipment like acetylene torch, an oxygen tank, hydraulic jacks and other heavy tools.
“Most of our previous investigations showed that the suspects who are composed of three or more people pretend to be businessmen planning to put up a rice store, an animal feeds’ store or other small businesses in a commercial stall near a pawnshop or a bank. Once they are allowed to move in after paying in advance, they immediately start digging quietly and if they can’t avoid it, increase the volume of their radio to cover their noise,” the official said.
In one case, two men and a woman rented a commercial stall four houses away from the Sangalang Pawnshop in Old Sta. Mesa Street in Sta. Mesa, Manila. The suspects told the stall owner that they are planning to put up a rice store and gave him a P30,000 advanced payment.
After moving in, the suspects dug a hole leading to the underground sewage system where they tunneled their way to the part of the sewer of the pawnshop. From there, the suspects dug another hole which led them to vault. An inventory conducted after the burglary was discovered showed that the suspects stole more than P500,000 worth of cash and pawned jewelry items.
Investigators found a hole big enough for a person to crawl through in the pawnshop. The hole ended up inside the rented stall where police discovered an acetylene and oxygen tanks, a crowbar, a heavy steel pole and a bolt-cutter.
A similar heist that took place at the Tambunting Pawnshop located at the Luisa Building along Quezon Avenue in Barangay 1, Vigan City, Ilocos Sur was also discovered. Police said the pawnshop manager discovered a hole inside the establishment when she opened it and found the place in disarray with all their money and jewelry missing.
An investigation showed that the suspects gained entry into the pawnshop by digging a hole leading to the drainage in front of the establishment. They later tunneled their way into the pawnshop where they destroyed the vault and carted away some P4.5 million in cash and assorted jewels.
The thieves also took advantage of the pawnshop’s lack of CCTV cameras and security guard, said policemen who recovered assorted digging tools in the area.