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The Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) has put up a P1-million reward, bringing the total bounty to P2 million for the arrest of the suspects in the brutal robbery of its branch in Cabuyao, Laguna that left nine people dead.

President Arroyo joined various sectors in condemning the massacre as she ordered the police to intensify the manhunt for the suspects.

The banking sector also urged authorities to track down the suspects as cash donations for the reward poured in.

On top of RCBC’s offer of P1 million, Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. and Laguna Gov. Teresita Lazaro each pledged P100,000 for the bounty.

Senior Superintendent Aaron Fidel, head of Task Force RCBC that was formed to investigate the killings, said a total of P800,000 was offered by various sectors which expressed concern and outrage over the murders.

Fidel said the money came from various sources in the Calabarzon area.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said Mrs. Arroyo was very angry over the incident and ordered Philippine National Police chief Director General Avelino Razon Jr. to personally oversee the investigation.

“I was able to talk to her (President Arroyo) for a short while and she was very disappointed. In all the past bank heists, this was the first time that she saw something like this happen,” Ermita said.

Ermita’s son, RCBC corporate services division vice president Edwin Ermita, announced the P1-million reward and said the bank has taken care of all the expenses of the victims’ families.

Ermita claimed the ninth victim was a client of the RCBC Cabuyao branch.

The bank’s customer relations manager Isagani Pastor, who was earlier reported to have succumbed to injuries in the incident, is still listed in critical condition at the St. James Hospital in Cabuyao, Ermita said.

“We ask the public to pray for the repose of the souls of the victims and the speedy recovery of the manager (Pastor),” Ermita said.

He emphasized Pastor holds the key to the identities of the suspects and the early solution of the case.

Seven of RCBC’s employees, a security guard and a client’s representative were lined up and shot dead inside the bank in what police described as one of the bloodiest bank robberies in history.

The victims were found sprawled on the floor of the bank, each with a gunshot wound to the head.

Police took for questioning two guards of the bank, identified as Joel de la Cruz and Regidor Sapun, who were both reported missing shortly after the killings took place.

According to Ermita, they are focusing on the entries in the logbook of the bank.

He said the entries in the logbook purportedly showed policemen entering the bank before the incident.

Ermita said investigators are looking at the possibility that the suspects may have entered the bank by pretending to be policemen.

Initial investigation revealed that Baltazar Aguilando, the security guard killed by the gunmen inside the bank, had reportedly entered in the logbook the names of several people who introduced themselves as lawmen.

The logbook stated the “policemen” entered the bank at 8:35 a.m. Friday.

A witness, identified as a certain Sheila, claimed seeing her driver, Ferdinand Bernard Antonio, one of the victims, being accosted by unidentified men wearing black jackets while about to enter the bank.

Sheila said she was inside her service car waiting for Antonio to emerge.

After 30 minutes of waiting, she noticed a commotion and responding policemen arriving at the bank. Sheila claimed she later learned that a robbery had taken place inside and Antonio was among those killed.

Police said the number of robbers and the amount of loot taken have not yet been determined.

Investigators are still verifying the fingerprints taken from the get-away vehicle used by the suspects found abandoned several kilometers away from the scene.

Tighter security urged

As the cash rewards poured in, various sectors called for the immediate solution of the robbery.

The banking community urged tighter security at banks to protect the industry and the banking clients.

But the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) said it could only impose minimum security requirements on banks, and added the spate of violent bank robberies should be solved by the police.

BSP Governor Amando Tetangco said last Friday’s robbery at the RCBC was a reminder that banks should strengthen their security to protect their clients and employees.

“I hope the (police) investigation (on that incident) solves it,” Tetangco said.

“But there really is not much we can do because banks are given a wide latitude for addressing security concerns,” he said.

Tetangco pointed out the time delay mechanism in the bank vault was part of BSP’s minimum security requirements but as far as the hiring of security personnel is concerned, the decision is left to the banks.

“Needless to say, I am extremely disturbed,” Tetangco said. “Acts like this are an assault on the security of banking institutions that can harm public confidence.”

Tetangco said the BSP issued bank regulations that directed banks to implement security measures that include the use of advanced technologies to physically protect their branches and electronic systems.

“Beyond that, the banks have to run their branches as they see fit,” he said. “We just hope that the police will be able to solve this case and bring the criminals to justice.”

Following the incident, the National Capital Regional Police Office (NCRPO) ordered tighter security measures on banks in Metro Manila with increased police visibility and patrols.

NCRPO chief Director Geary Barias said chokepoints have been established near banks to provide tighter security.

Barias said all the district police commanders have been ordered to set up road checkpoints in strategic areas in Metro Manila, particularly near banks.

Lawmakers, on the other hand, challenged the police to immediately solve the Cabuyao robbery.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the police have failed to secure the area that could have prevented the brutal killings.

Sen. Loren Legarda added the police should come out with significant developments in the case within 48 hours. She said security must be beefed up, particularly in commercial areas.

Both senators said the incident gives enough reason to revive the death penalty.

The anti-crime group Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) condemned the robbery and urged the government to review the possible reimposition of the death penalty.

The VACC said the “RCBC massacre is a reality check for our law enforcement agencies.”

Malacañang, however, said the incident does not mean the possible reimposition of the death penalty.

Deputy presidential spokesman Anthony Golez said the imposition of the death penalty has not been proven to be a deterrent to heinous crimes based on any statistical data. ( Inquirer.net)

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