Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Senseless and gruesome

This was my column last Monday, May 19.

The magnitude of the crime committed at the Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. Cabuyao Laguna branch last Friday is simply beyond words.

When the news reverberated across the country last Friday, many among us in the banking industry were stupefied. Most were reduced to shaking heads, unable to comprehend the reprehensible crime. The words gruesome, horrifying and dastardly don’t even begin to describe the act.

Although being held up at gunpoint is a thought that many bankers don’t bring to the conscious level, it is nevertheless a risk that we know we face everyday. This is why banks do train employees on how to deal with such situations. As a trainer in one of the top universal banks, I personally conduct training programs that teach bank employees techniques on how to proactively manage robbery situations. This includes not engaging the perpetrators in eye contact so as to avoid being suspected of having identified any of them. The general assumption was that a robbery is mounted for one and only one purpose: For the robbers to abscond with the money. Darn it, they were supposed to grab the money, not harm anyone, and run off as quickly as possible.

I don’t think any bank or anyone for that matter has ever entertained the thought that a bank heist would ever come to such a gruesome end where everyone inside the premises would be killed mercilessly.

As bankers, we know at the back of our minds that the possibility of being held up—however remote it may be— exists, and come with the job. But up until last Friday, the possibility that one would come across such lowlife creatures —I have difficulty referring to the perpetrators of the crime as human beings because how can any one with a beating heart and a functioning mind be blind, deaf, and generally insensitive to the cries for help or mercy of another human being—in one’s line of work was simply inconceivable. Are there really people with such unspeakable evil in their hearts walking in this world?

According to reports, all nine victims —eight of them employees in the bank, and one client—were shot at point blank range. They seemed to have been lined up “gang” way and systematically shot in the head. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to stand in a line and witness your colleagues being shot down one by one and being cognizant, in a surreal way, that you could be next. I know that what I am writing is dreadful and I apologize; but we must not let the rage inside us die down—what was done to all nine victims was unspeakable evil. No one should be made to go through something as horrible.

We all hoped and prayed that Isagani Pastor, the bank’s client relations manager, the only one who was still alive when police arrived at the scene last Friday, would survive. But he had also passed on as I wrote this piece. The work that lay in store for our investigators has just become more difficult.

There are many theories about what must have happened inside the RCBC Cabuyao branch that fateful rainy end-of-the-workweek morning.

One theory is that the criminals must have been known to the employees; this is supposed to explain why the employees were killed. But it doesn’t explain why they were killed in such a gruesome way. One theory being whispered about involves personal motives—a kind of rage killing. There is not much basis for this theory and I am personally inclined to dismiss this as pure hearsay. But what is clear and cannot be disputed is that the perpetrators were simply evil beyond words.

All banks are equipped with various security measures including time delay locks installed in cash vaults as well as cameras that record all movements inside a bank. Banks also have security procedures in place.

It appears that the vault was opened. This was possibly because the bank was not open for business yet and the bank cashier must have been still preparing the cash requirements for the day. But why was a huge amount of money—round three million worth of dollars and yen, reports say—left strewn around? Perhaps because the criminals knew that foreign currencies are documented, photocopied even, and are easily tracked? Perhaps because these represent a pittance compared to the overall booty?

It still isn’t clear if the built-in cameras in the bank were malfunctioning at the time of the robbery or if they were destroyed by the criminals. The branch was relatively new and banks do invest heavily on security measures so it is inconceivable for RCBC to have non-functioning cameras.

What is clear is that the criminals were not amateurs as many were quick to point out. One broadcaster opined— ludicrously—on public television that it would have been much easier for the criminals to have worn masks over their faces if they knew any better. To begin with, it is not known if they did or did not wear masks. The timing of the crime—the bank was still closed for business so the criminals had more time in their hands—as well as the other clues that cannot be revealed yet indicate that it was a well-planned heist.

What happened last Friday breached new alarm levels in terms of security precautions in this country. Obviously, banks have to reinforce current security measures and procedures to ensure that a similar tragedy would not recur. In other countries, banks are practically fortresses, but very tough security measures seem to run counter to the very personalized way of banking in our culture. And really, if we come down to it, the most advanced security measures are puny when one comes face-to-face with pure evil.

It is easy to politicize what happened. I admire the tenacity of the gun ban advocates, but quite frankly, I hope we don’t exploit the tragedy for whatever gains. What happened last Friday was not about the gun ban issue, nor about the death penalty issue. This is not about the corruption that is happening in this country. It’s about how our society has bred low-life creatures that are now brazenly showing to the world just how little value or worth they put on human lives when these get in the way of their evil schemes.

I condole with the families and friends of the victims of Friday murders. At the same time, I would like to personally reach out to my good friends and colleagues at RCBC, particularly my good friend Edwin Ermita, who seems to have aged a lot since last Friday.

2 comments:

Twin-Skies said...

1. You might want to check your blog title - "Gruesome," not "Gruesom"

2. While the incident is indeed an atrocity, something about it just screams inside job.

The robbery was clean and well-executed, there were no signs of forced entry, and the execution hints that the employees (or at least some of them) may have had connections with the robbers - hence leading to them being silenced.

That aside, previous bank heists indicate that robbers tend to shoot at security guards attempting stop them, or cops. They gain nothing from shooting civilians - murder also carries a much heavier penalty than robbery.

Bong C. Austero said...

thanks for pointing out the typo. :)

bong