The RCBC Bank Robbery and Its Implications

I had some reservations about writing on the deaths of ten individuals, murder victims who were killed in a successful robbery of the Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) branch in Cabuyao, Laguna a week ago. The killings hit close to home and I felt I would not be objective enough to handle the subject.

But having already made a post on it some days ago, and seeing the response of so many readers, I feel compelled to close the loop on my analysis of the tragic incident and its aftermath.

The brutal inhumanity of the killings have been reported extensively in traditional media and the blogsphere , and there’s no need to repeat the details here. However, recent events related to the incident require closer examination.

First, the handling by the police of the investigation. In their usual ham-fisted way, the initial responding team broke into the RCBC Cabuyao, Laguna branch, and started trampling around the scene of the crime. Understandable, as there was the urgency of saving any survivors. But was there a systematic attempt to gather and preserve evidence critical to the investigation ? I don’t know. But it appears, from news reports and pictures of the incident which have been circulating on the internet, that even the police were taken aback by the mayhem and violence of the killings. I hope the Philippine National Police (PNP) Scene of the Crime Operations (SOCO) people were cool and level-headed enough to have collected, in a scientific and methodical way, all the possible physical evidence which could lead to the killers. There were certainly plenty of pictures taken, some of which found its way online, but more on this later.

President Arroyo was furious, and in her usual theatrical manner, ordered the PNP to go after the perpetrators pronto. So Task Force RCBC was formed , headed by one Sr. Supt. Aaron Fidel, composed of investigators from the Regional Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, Regional Crime Laboratory, Traffic Management Group, Laguna Police Provincial Office and Civil Security Group. Every conceivable group is represented here, and therein lies the problem. Each unit has its own leadership, operatives, organizational structure and way of doing things. It would take an exceptional leader to whip such a diverse bunch into a cohesive team. We wish Sr. Supt. Fidel all the luck.

Task Force RCBC lost no time in going after the criminals. But whether these were the right criminals is still unclear. PNP Director General Avelino Razon Jr. emphasized that he did not issue a shoot-to-kill order against the robbers . Nevertheless, the Task Force promptly gunned down the first four suspects they encountered. So much for following orders.

Suspects Pepito Magsino, Vivencio Javier, Angelito Malabanan and Rolly Lachica–all residents of Tanauan, Batangas, allegedly shot it out with the cops and were killed. But Senior Supt. David Quimio, Batangas police director, was later quoted in a radio interview with Ted Failon of DZMM as saying that there has been no confirmation as yet if the four men were in any way involved in the RCBC robbery. The cops’ logic seems to be: They were suspects, so they had to die.

This raises obvious and troubling questions. Was it in fact a rubout, as the relatives of the four slain men claim ? Why were the task force members so trigger-happy ? Who were these guys, that the police were so eager to kill them ?

All these unanswered queries lend credence to speculation that members of the PNP or at least “men in uniform” , whether in active service or not, were involved in the RCBC robbery itself. In fact, a statement to this effect was made by the PNP leadership early on. This may be the reason why they were so eager to silence their supposed cohorts. For purposes of the investigation, these guys were clearly more valuable alive than dead, at least until the murders are solved. But Task Force RCBC summarily dead-ended that road.

The official PNP statement says that the four men killed were really members of a notorious kidnap and robbery-holdup group in Southern Tagalog. Granted that this may be true, and the rumor is that the police are using the RCBC massacre as an excuse to go after existing criminal syndicates in the area, this doesn’t bring us any closer to apprehending the Cabuyao killers.

Whichever way one looks at it, the PNP comes out looking bad. The police are either involved in the crime itself and are now trying to cover it up or are so inept as to not know who they should be going after. This does not auger well for the progress of the investigation.

Next, the question on a lot of people’s minds is why the crime was vicious in the extreme. The obvious answer seems to be that the robbers wanted no witnesses. But the diabolical, execution-style killings upped the ante on the lengths criminals are willing to go to escape prosecution. They will kill with impunity and without remorse.

But what could push them to such inhuman ferociousness ? Poverty is often cited as a factor. But that’s only part of the story. The Philippines literally has millions of people living in destitution, but they don’t turn into mass murderers. Otherwise, we’d all be dead.

I think Conrad De Quiros was correct when he wrote that the execution of the RCBC bank employees should be seen in the context of the widespread violence being perpetrated by the present administration all over the country. He asks:

But if that is so, how can you seethe with rage over the systematic execution of the Laguna bank employees and not burn with greater fury at the methodical execution of political activists and journalists? How can you cry out for unsheathing the sword of vengeance or retribution, whichever comes first or more handily, at the authors of the Laguna massacre and not shout for unleashing the Furies or letting fall the hand of justice, whichever comes last or more forcefully, at the perpetrators of the nationwide slaughter? For while fuming at the atrocity in Laguna, (Justice Secretary) Gonzalez has been laughing at the obscenity in the country for several years now. While being furious at the cold-blooded execution of the hostages in a bank, Gonzalez has been facetious over the cold-blooded “salvaging” of abductees by cops and soldiers.

You can understand how in the heat of battle, crazed soldiers might commit a savage act, wreaking a massacre upon a village. You cannot understand how in the quiet of peace, or in the tomb of cities and in the dead of day, government can commit a barbaric act, wreaking wholesale slaughter upon some of the country’s best and brightest. That’s what the journalists and political activists are, the latter often in the flush of youth–they are some of the country’s best and brightest. The first for all its senselessness retains some sense; the second for all its justification is unforgivable.

If you can get mad at what happened to the hostages in Laguna, you have to get madder at what has been happening to the activists and journalists who are hostage to government’s policy of keeping “killing fields.”

If you can get mad at the pitilessness with which the bank robbers in Laguna shot their hostages in the head, you have to get madder at the mercilessness with which cops and soldiers seize union officials and strike leaders, often from the embrace of their wives and children, and make them reappear with bullet wounds in their heads. The latter is no less savage and barbaric because the murder was not seen, or because the bodies materialized only later in a state of decomposition.

Indeed, why would the RCBC robbers have any compunction about killing when the first to break the laws of God and man are those sworn to uphold them in the first place ?

To take Mr. De Quiros’ argument further , it’s not just a question of state violence, but also of unbridled corruption that goes all the way to the top. Why should the Cabuyao killers not steal millions at gunpoint when our national leaders routinely steal twenty, fifty, a hundred times over with the stroke of a pen, after a few secret meetings ?

The Arroyo government has engendered an environment of lawlessness and a sense of moral drift. Nobody gets punished anyway for crimes which may not as be as violent on the surface but are equally heinous, committed as they are against the entire Filipino nation. Who knows how many lives have been lost, among the poor and defenseless, owing to lack of food, medicine or fundamental health care because the funds for these basic needs found their way to the pockets of those in power ? It’s not surprising that social nihilism has gained a foothold in the country and that crimes like the Cabuyao massacre, or the pitiless violence which characterized it, are now commonplace.

I fear that the RCBC robbery has now become the template for future acts of a like nature. Almost surely, we’ll be seeing more bank robberies in the near future, simply because, as bank robber Willie Sutton supposedly answered when asked why he robbed banks, “that’s where the money is”.

A final note on the gruesome photographs of the RCBC murder victims now circulating on the internet. They could only have been taken by police investigators at the crime scene and it’s reasonable to assume that someone in authority deliberately leaked them. I’m of two minds about it. It would certainly be painful for the victims’ families to have their loved ones’ grisly deaths exhibited in so public a manner. A valid argument for desecration of the dead can also be made. At the same time, the graphic and compelling nature of the images ensures that the crime will not easily be forgotten. Viewing it brings about an almost uncontrollable gut-feeling of deep anger and moral outrage. Owing to its viral nature, it has also reached far more people than what would normally be possible through news reports alone. Maybe it’s just what we need to spur us into action to battle these and other, more insidious, forms of evil so prevalent in Philippine society. No sane person can be neutral about it after seeing the pictures. As a the old adage goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Police claim to have identified five suspects, including two uniformed personnel, in the murders of 10 people during the bloody robbery in Cabuyao, Laguna, on May 16.

Senior Superintendent Aaron Fidel, head of RCBC Taskforce and deputy regional director for operation in Calabarzon, said in an interview that based on the accounts of six witnesses, they were able to identify the real names, backgrounds, affiliations, and the last known addresses of five suspects while four others were only identified through their aliases.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said that initial findings indicated that three men police claim were suspected members of a crime gang were summarily executed, not killed in a shootout.

It appears the inside-job angle was correct, as two of three arrested suspects in the bloody bank robbery are former security gaurds of RCBC. Charged with robbery with multiple homicide were the bank’s former security guards Joel dela Cruz and Jesus Narvaez, and Ricardo Gomolon, who are currently under the custody of Task Force RCBC.

3 thoughts on “The RCBC Bank Robbery and Its Implications”

  1. Dear RCBC
    Please extend my heartily condolence to the family of the victims in RCBC Cabuyao.
    I hope the justice will done to them, i am very sad when i saw the news in kuwait thru TFC.



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