MANILA, Philippines – Six still unidentified men made off with nearly 200 pieces of jewelry after they carried out a brazen two-minute heist inside a packed department store in Mandaluyong City on Saturday evening.
At press time, officials of SM Megamall and the police have yet to determine the amount of valuables stolen by the thieves.
A check of the footage taken by the mall’s closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras, meanwhile, captured images of five of the six men who robbed two jewelry stores on the ground floor of the mall’s department store.
Only one of them was armed with a cal. .45 pistol which he had tucked into the waistband of his pants, right on top of his abdomen.
Two of his cohorts were shown carrying pipe wrenches which they used to smash the jewelry glass display cases. The other members of the group, on the other hand, served as lookouts, according to the police.
According to Mandaluyong police chief Senior Supt. Florendo Quibuyen, the six men who were dressed in shirts and denim pants entered the mall at 6:56 p.m. through the supermarket. One was in a black jacket while others were toting black shoulder bags.
They went through the usual check but none of the guards on duty spotted the gun being carried by one of the men although the bulge made by the firearm was obvious as shown in the CCTV footage.
At 7:04 p.m., one of the suspects was captured on video buying a pipe wrench from a hardware store inside the mall.
At 7:26 p.m., two of the six men went to the ground floor of the mall’s department store. They announced the heist and started smashing the glass display cases of two jewelry stores—F and C and Jeweller Jewellery—with pipe wrenches.
As the two started scooping out the jewelry inside the cases and putting them into their bags, their three cohorts acted as lookouts. The one who was armed with the cal. .45 pistol did not take it out although he kept one hand on the firearm the whole time.
He later squeezed off two shoots after a mall security guard, Wenzly Gonzaga, was seen approaching the group but fortunately, the bullets only hit a glass case.
After two minutes, the six men left the area and based on a trail of blood which dripped from the hand of one of the robbers, they exited the mall through the basement.
Quibuyen said that one of the suspects suffered a cut in the hand after he hit the jewelry glass display case with the pipe wrench.
An inventory showed that the thieves made off with 71 Saudi gold necklaces, 52 Saudi gold pendants and four Saudi Gold men’s rings from Jeweller Jewellery Store.
The F and C store, on the other hand, lost 10 Saudi gold rings, 21 earrings and 17 Saudi gold chains.
Quibuyen said that when the robber fired his gun, shoppers who heard the shots panicked and rushed toward the exits.
The mall security guards who were unarmed, he added, helped guide the shoppers and did not go after the robbers who were able to disappear
into the crowd.
“What the SM guards did was right, if they had fought with the suspects, a stampede or a more violent incident could have transpired,” Quibuyen said.
The theft was reported to authorities with the Mandaluyong police responding within five minutes although by the time the incident was verified and checked, the robbers were nowhere in sight.
“The suspects could have probably fled by then,” Quibuyen said.
Mall operations resumed around 9 p.m. as a flash alarm was immediately sent out to police personnel in Metro Manila and the nearby provinces in Central Luzon and the Calabarzon area, the police official added.
The police are now trying to determine if the suspects were from the same robbery group which carried out heists at jewelry stores in SM Bicutan and Binondo, Manila, in 2010. The group used hammers to smash the jewelry display
cases in their targeted establishments.
Meanwhile, SM Supermalls president Annie Garcia said they would be augmenting their security forces and applying a stricter measure of body and bag searches of people entering their establishments.
Garcia added that together with the police and SM’s security agency, they would be reviewing the video from the mall’s CCTV cameras to find out more about the robbers.