Armed men loot jewelry shop


SCENE OF THE CRIME. A member of the Philippine National Police’s Scene of the Crime Operatives inspects the area outside the Sarabia Optical Pawnshop and Jewelry Store on corner Guanco and J.M. Basa Streets, Iloilo City after armed men robbed it. JOSELITO VILLASIS/PN


ILOILO City – Heavily armed men staged a daring, broad daylight heist at the heart of this city’s busy commercial district, looting a pawnshop and jewelry store with a still undetermined amount of jewelry.

Around 9 a.m. yesterday as the Sarabia Optical Pawnshop and Jewelry Store on corner Guanco and J.M. Basa Streets was opening, nine men suddenly barged in, disarmed the shop’s lone security guard and ordered all the store’s staff to lie face down on the floor.

According to Supt. Kim Legada, chief of the Iloilo City Police Office’s (ICPO) Police Precinct 1, the robbers were armed with rifles and handguns.

Citing statements from the store’s personnel, Legada said the robbers used hammers to break the glass shelves where jewelry and pawned items were displayed.

None of the store’s staff was harmed.

Sarabia Optical Pawnshop and Jewelry Store is owned by the wife of Vice Mayor Jose Espinosa III.

The robbery was carried out for some four minutes only. Aside from using three black Honda XRM motorcycles as getaway vehicles, the robbers also had two backup sports utility vehicles or SUVs, said Legada.

Witnesses told radio stations they saw a Toyota Fortuner standing by and later leaving as the robbers fled onboard motorcycles.

Before leaving the pawnshop, the robbers had a brief gunfight with a policeman who happened to be nearby.

No one got hit by bullets but a woman at a nearby Jollibee fast food outlet got hurt in the ensuing stampede when customers rushed out in panic after hearing bursts of gunfire.

Jollibee was just two stores away from the Sarabia Optical Pawnshop and Jewelry Store.

The policeman who engaged the robbers in the short gunfight was PO2 Mark Zaldivar, official driver of ICPO Director, Senior Supt. Marietto Valerio Sr.

At the time of the robbery, Zaldivar was at a nearby jewelry repair shop on Guanco Street a few meters away from the pawnshop. He was having a piece of personal jewelry repaired when a woman happened to pass by and expressed concern of a possible heist at the Sarabia Optical Pawnshop and Jewelry Store.

Alarmed, Zaldivar reached for his rifle and inched closer to the store.

One of the robbers saw Zaldivar and fired a shot. The policeman fired back.

Witnesses claimed to have seen the motorcycles and their backup SUVs parting ways as they left the store.

Some claimed one motorcycle turned toward Muelle Loney and almost careened to one side as it made the hasty turn. Others said they saw the other motorcycles zooming toward Ortiz Street or Rizal Street.

Sidewalk vendors interviewed said some of the robbers were wearing black jackets, while others were wearing helmets.

They also claimed to have seen the robbers concealing their weapons inside tennis racket protective cases.

Citing the way the robbery was carried out, the firearms and getaway vehicles used, Legada said the armed men appeared to belong to a well-organized robbery group.

As of press time yesterday, the pawnshop was still conducting an inventory on the stolen items and their value.

Responding policemen recovered at least 10 empty shells on Guanco and J.M. Basa Streets. These would be subjected to ballistics test./PN


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