Makati City – In a upscale urban mall at the heart of the one of Asia’s regional financial capitols of Manila. Gunfire rang out scattering shoppers and security personnel alike after a group of men attempted a armed robbery disguised as a Police bomb squad responding to a emergency call. It is story that has repeated itself across the Philippine Island of Luzon for over five years. At the top of the list of suspects – is a notorious violent armed robbery gang.
The suspect is the Alvin Flores gang, which has not only hit shopping malls, but banks, and, armored vans that transport cash, the common tactic is to use Police uniforms and insignia.
This year, the gang has hit Banks and grocery stores to warehouses to now Sunday’s infamous attack on the mall of the rich and famous. Police fear this Sundays attempt is a bold escalation on the part of the gang. Among those engaged in Armed robbery the group is known to use up to 20 men in its attacks. Flores, the Philippine National Police suspected gang leader knows investigation and tactics. He is reportedly a dismissed officer with special tactical counter terrorism training,
All in all per the Police the Alvin Flores gang that is responsible for over sixty violent killings it has reportedly also branched out into gun-for hire killings and has ties to the Waray-Waray and Ozamis gangs of Mindanao who engage in bank robbery and kidnapping. The group blamed also in the deadly robbery of an armored van inside the University of the Philippines Diliman campus a security guard and a bank teller where murdered in that attack.
It also was suspected in a another violent robbery at the Waltermart shopping mall in Quezon City, and yet another store in Malate, Manila. The same group also robbed a cell phone stores in Pasig City. The Infamous Paranque shootout where 18 died is also allegedly part of robbery gangs handiwork. Last year in 2008, it took part in 22 high-profile robberies including the series of robberies in warehouses in the capitol and another at the St. Scholastica’s College in Manila.
Southern Police District director Chief Superintendent Jaime Calungsod, has ordered that all security camera recordings be reviewed as well as tapes from bank cameras and CCTV mall security video to verify suspicions and attempt to identify the robbery suspects.
Makati Robbery: Guards surprised with speed and deception.
Security guards were caught off guard when men in black stormed into the upscale Greenbelt 5 shopping district of the sprawling Ayala Center mall in Makati.
One robber in Police special forces black tactical uniforms armed with a assault rifle and tactical headset radios one of the one with grenade launcher forced their way into Mall staircase. The Bomb Squad looking gangster told a basement parking area security guard to “Be on alert, as they were responding to Bomb report. a terrorist with Bomb,” They ordering him to man his post order a evacuation, That there was no time to waste,. “He radioed for backup,” a report on local radio quoting the head of Ayala Land Security as saying the guards .38 caliber revolver was no match for a assault squad with M4 and M16’s of armed men.
Reports vary, some say as many as 11 armed men were involved. But at least six or seven stormed into a jewelry shop that deals in Rolex and other high end watches. More perhaps acted as lookouts, Other if the gangs tactics are consistent were ready to block reinforcements.
Once inside the Mall the men forced customers out, then began smashing glass cases with guns and forcing store staff into back rooms. However the attempt to take hostages was allegedly averted when two alert police officers from a special weapons and tactics unit of the neighboring city of Taguig challenged the fake cops.
When the robbers failed to answer a standard ID “verbals counter sign” the two officers armed only with handguns opened fire startling the robbery suspects who fought back.
In five minutes and dozens of shots fired one robber, “Was neutralized” according to police and lay dead. His other companions fled – local television showed the aftermath in video taken by shoppers on cell phones showing a dead suspect on the ground surrounded by responding police units.
“Had my men not challenged them they believe they planned to take hostages or perhaps harm store employees.” Mayor Freddie Tinga told a television network in the Philippines. “They deserve a lot of the credit for stopping this thing from getting worse.”
Mayor Tinga, was at a lunch meeting. His security detail was waiting outside a restaurant and heard screams and saw the “fake cops” smashing glass cases in the watch store.
Philippine policemen are not limited by territorial jurisdiction while assigned to one part of the Philippines they are all part of the National Police force. They challenged one of the robbers in a uniform to Identify his unit. He tried to open fire. But the Taguig officers, trained in CQB or close quarters battle engaged the robbers killing one and possibly hitting and injuring another of the gang.
Makati’s Mayor issues warning: Be prepared for more attempts
Makati’s Mayor Jojomar Binay is worried the assault style robbery may be the “shape of things to come” in a radio interview.
“We need to improve on security, the combination of hard times, the recent disaster and hopelessness of some suffering from poverty and corruption may drive more to attempt these kinds of desperate acts.” Binay said in a radio interview in Tagalog a major Philippine dialect.
But Binay stressed that, “Poverty nor injustice, is never a excuse for criminal acts and Police and Private security firms Makati, ( the Philippine financial capitol) will raise alert levels to deal with any rise in crime or criminal activity.” the Mayor said over a Philippine radio station DZXL.
Mall Security: Robbers dressed in parked van in basement parking near target store
Police investigators believe the mall robbers came in as customers and dressed in a parked van. A initial statement says police are studying CCTV camera video recordings.
“It is known they entered, at least some of them dressed as customers and changed into fake police tactical gear.” A Philippine National Police investigator told reporters at the scene. “But, they never expected to be challenged inside the store and mall.”
Police credit the pair of Policemen from disrupting what could have been a larger plan to hit more shops in the area at the same time.”It could have turned into a hostage situation or worse.”
Not the first time for Manila Malls:
Metropolitan Manila has three of the worlds ten largest shopping malls in terms of floor area and shopping space. Over 28 Malls of considerable size serve a population of nearly 12 million residents. Crime has adapted and so have criminal gangs.
A major problem in some shopping malls has been Kidnapping, Robbery, Theft, and car jacking and hold-ups at ATM machines are what Philippine Police note as the most common crimes that go reported inside Manila’s major malls.
Security at most malls are tighter than some airports with mandatory pat-down searches and inspection of bags at most malls being the norm rather than the exception. Makati’s Ayala owned malls have the lowest violent crime rate and are generally safe.
“Its not uncommon to see in the area where the robbers hit, Imelda Marcos and her friends. Or Senators, Ambassadors and celebrities, people from here and even Hollywood at that particular section of Greenbelt mall.” a store owner talking to mikeinmanila told us in a interview. “Its like fifth avenue and Rodeo drive all rolled into one -its not some suburban shop zone. It’s world class – but even with that there are lapses at least no customers were killed.”
At least one hotel employee however a bystander was wounded in the shootout that last for more than five minutes. Other mall armed robberies of this type have been far more deadly for both shoppers, security, and, would be bandits.
Several years back at another portion of the mall also a Jewelry store was hit, robbers shoot up the surroundings killing at least 3 and managed to get away. In yet another incident armed robbers shot it out with policemen after a holding up a bank.
Makati’s main shopping mall district, the Ayala Center, has also been a scene of several coup attempts, one lasting several days in the 1980’s. A older section of the greenbelt mall inside its cinema 4 was where Ramzi Youseff and Kahlid Sheik Mohammad tested liquid explosives they later used in plane attack even further back Anti-Government rebels set off bombs in a popular department store.
“Makati’s mall is full of history, both positive and negative but it is after-all more than just a mall it’s great melting pot of have’s, have some, and those who want to have.” said the store owner. “Just look around – the other parts of the shopping district are open like nothings happened.”
But, several armed robberies have taken place in other area malls. Including bank robbery where 18 people were killed at a rival commercial district.in the Ortigas center district, “The Philippines can be a violent place. This is just part of that showing itself sadly at time and place where families were gathered.” The local police chief said, “A reminder to all of us to be vigilant and keep trying harder to fight those who want to sow violence and terror.”