End of the line for MRT cell phone snatcherBy Nancy C. Carvajal
Philippine Daily Inquirer
A member of a group of cell phone robbers preying on Metro Rail Transit (MRT) commuters was arrested Tuesday at the southbound station of the Araneta Center-Cubao station in Quezon City.
SPO4 Leonardo Pasco, chief investigator of the Quezon City Police District’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Unit, said that Ruel Belmonte, 31, a resident of 7 Sitio Kaliwa in Barangay Batasan Hills, Quezon City, was caught after his victim, Jorge Tapalla, chased after him.
The ensuing commotion caught the attention of MRT security guards who took Belmonte into custody at 1:50 p.m. His cohorts, however, managed to escape.
When frisked, Belmonte yielded the victim’s iPhone 4 and a Nokia E5 whose owner later surfaced and tagged Belmonte as the one who stole it from him nearly an hour earlier at the same station.
According to Michael Fugueras, he was getting off the train at around 1 p.m. when several men blocked his path and squeezed against him even though the loading platform was not crowded.
He looked for his cell phone, found it gone and someone told him, “Someone took your phone.”
Fugueras said he looked back at the train and saw a man inside turning over his missing cell phone to Belmonte. But at the same time, the train doors closed so he had no chance to go after the thief, he added.
His experience was similar to that of Tapalla who said that he was standing on the passenger platform when he noticed four men strategically placing themselves around him as if to hide him from the view of other passengers.
Their action put Tapalla, who at the time was wearing his iPhone earphones, on his guard.
He added that he became even more suspicious when the train stopped at the station and he saw a man who was getting out go back in when he spotted Tapalla’s earphones.
Once inside the train, he said the men boxed him in a corner with Belmonte standing behind him.
“The train was not full and there was plenty of space. They were pinning me between them until I heard someone shout, ‘Someone took your cell phone,’” Tapalla told the police.
The police, however, said that this was a signal meant for other members of the group, not for the victim. The warning was aimed at distracting the victim so that the gang member holding the cell phone could get away.
At that moment, Tapalla said he saw Belmonte getting out of the train so he immediately followed him and gave chase.
Several robberies had been reported at MRT stations with the robbers timing their every movement, getting out of the train just before the doors close to prevent their victim from chasing after them.