MANILA, Philippines—“Sorry, he’s not in right now. Would you like to leave a message?”
With that deadpan statement, Jim Bautista hoped to evade arrest in Ilocos Sur on Wednesday, but the ruse fell flat on its face as he apparently had forgotten that the police had a mugshot of him taken when he was arrested on a burglary charge in Las Piñas City last year, police said.
Thus Bautista, a suspect in the break-in by robbers who burrowed their way underground into the vault of a pawnshop in Quezon City last week, was being transported back to Metro Manila on Wednesday to face charges in connection with the Quezon City theft and his jumping bail.
Members of the Quezon City Police District’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Unit had to travel some five hours to Ilocos Sur and then several more hours to a village in Quirino town, over rough terrain and the Abra River, to serve an arrest warrant on the 21-year-old Bautista, a suspected member of a group the police refers to as the “Hasanta acetylene group.”
Bautista is one of four suspects in the Feb. 13 break-in at the Tambunting Pawnshop on Calle Industria in Barangay (village) Bagong Bayan, where robbers burrowed underground to get to the shop’s vault. The thieves cleaned out the vault of some P800,000 in cash and pawned jewelry.
“He never expected anybody to reach him,” QCPD-CIDU theft and robbery head Chief Insp. Allan Dela Cruz told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in a telephone interview. He described Sitio Bulbulen in the municipality of Quirino as a “really isolated mountainous area.”
Dela Cruz, who led the team of QCPD-CIDU operatives, said that when he and his mean arrived at Bautista’s home in Sitio Bulbulen around 6 a.m., they immediately spotted the suspect whom they initially pretended not to recognize. They asked after Jim Bautista to which the suspect replied, “Wala siya. Umalis (He is not here. He left).”
But the QCPD-CIDU personnel had brought a copy of Bautista’s mugshot with them and when confronted with it, Bautista had no option but admit who he was.
Dela Cruz said that they noticed that Bautista was all dressed up and they surmised he was just about to leave, possibly to meet someone, when they caught him.
Asked how they were able to track down Bautista to the remote village, Dela Cruz told the Inquirer, “He was the only one who told the truth about his background and gave his real name when his group was arrested last year.”
Bautista and four other members of the Hasanta acetylene group were arrested in July last year for a robbery at the DM Garcia pawnshop on the Alabang-Zapote Road in Las Piñas City. Bautista had jumped bail of P100,000, prompting a Las Piñas City court to issue a new warrant for his arrest.
Dela Cruz said they were not able to recover from Bautista any valuable that could have been part of the pawnshop loot but said it was to be expected. “These organized groups usually surrender all their loot to their financier who pays their respective share of the proceeds,” he said.
Dela Cruz said that they were bringing Bautista back to Metro Manila for the return of the arrest warrant to the Las Piñas City court before filing another robbery charge in the Quezon City prosecutor’s office against him and his cohorts for last week’s heist at the Tambunting Pawnshop.