Burglars grab Cebu town’s P430,000

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Sunday, August 31, 2014


THE town of Pinamungajan lost about P430,000 in employees’ salaries and taxes after unidentified persons broke into the town hall at dawn Sunday, in what police described as a “copycat” burglary.

Pinamungajan is the fourth town whose treasurer’s office was ransacked within the last seven days, and the crime bore striking similarities to the burglaries in the northern towns of Compostela, Carmen and Sogod, police said.

The chief of the Cebu Provincial Police Office (CPPO), Senior Supt. Noel Gillamac, directed all police stations to beef up security measures in vital installations, such as town halls, to stop copycat crimes.

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“Because we can’t provide 24/7 security to municipal halls, the personnel in charge of these funds should be prudent and take good care of these funds, treating it as if it was their own personal money,” he told Sun.Star Cebu.

“This is a wake-up call for all of our local government units nga magbutang gyud og (to place) security guards (within the municipal halls),” said Pinamungajan Mayor Glenn Baricuatro.

He confirmed there was no security guard because officials were confident that the area was secure, considering the police station is just a few meters away.

The burglary raised anew the concern of law enforcers regarding businesses and government offices that lack tight security.

Unguarded

The Pinamungajan Municipal Hall didn’t have a security guard or a closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera in the building.

SPO1 Peter Cuanso, deputy chief of the Pinamungajan Police Station, said the burglary was discovered at 8 a.m. by Junior Salaritan, a janitor, who saw the steel door at the back entrance was already open.

Salaritan went to the town hall at that time to open the building to construction workers who are fixing a comfort room. He saw that a portion of the door that held the lock had been cut, which prompted him to report to the authorities.

When the Pinamungajan policemen checked, they saw the door of the treasurer’s office, located on the first level, was also destroyed.

They found that one of the vaults and a drawer were already open. The vault’s P400,000 cash and some P30,000 cash in the drawer were missing.

The other vault bore signs that someone had tried to force it open.

“Wala gyud nagkatag didto. Limpyo ra kaayo. Kahibaw gyud ni sila asa ang kwarta (There was no disarray. Whoever did this knew exactly where the money was being kept),” SPO1 Cuanso told Sun.Star Cebu.

Darkness, rain

The police suspect the burglary was pulled off at 2 a.m. by at least three people, when the town experienced a brownout during a heavy rain and thunderstorm.

Cuanso said the police force’s alert team began patrolling the town following a string of burglaries in Compostela, Carmen and Sogod. But their alert team didn’t notice any commotion when they passed by the municipal hall, about 30 meters away from the police station.

Last Monday and Tuesday, the treasurer’s offices of Compostela, Carmen and Sogod lost more than P167,000 to unidentified culprits. Monday was a non-working holiday.

Electricity was restored in Pinamungajan at 4 a.m., which was probably the time the burglars fled from the building before they could open the other vault, Cuanso said.

No one saw people entering the building or any vehicles parked in the area. The back entrance is located near the municipal auditorium, and there are no residents nearby.

Cuanso said the money was supposed to be the salaries of several employees who went to Cebu City for a seminar last Friday and didn’t have time to collect their pay.

The money also included some taxes paid by vendors during the market day last Friday.

Cuanso said they questioned the employees assigned in the treasurer’s office, including Municipal Treasurer Gloria Managaytay, following the incident.

The employees recalled that they noticed an elderly man, together with a teenage boy, asking for alms every Friday for several weeks. On one occasion, the man attempted to go inside the office, but some staff held him at bay.

“Kung dili nani mobalik pa, possible apil ni sila ug nagmonitor lang nila (If they don’t come back, it’s possible they were monitoring the place),” Cuanso said.

Gillamac, for his part, directed the Provincial Investigation and Detective Management Branch (PIDMB) of CPPO, under the command of Supt. Rodolfo Albotra, to help in the investigation.

“The series of alleged burglaries victimizing the treasurer’s offices of the different towns is alarming. It is a slap on the face of the police, considering the crime scenes are near the police stations,” he said.

ATM system

However, Gillamac said they are not discounting the possibility that some of these funds may have been misused, but were instead declared stolen to avoid liability.
“There are instances like that from what we have found out before in our investigations,” he said.

Mayor Baricuatro, for his part, assured that the employees whose salaries had been stolen will be paid, although there may be a delay.

The municipality recently signed an agreement with the Land Bank of the Philippines so that salaries will be released through ATMs. A Land Bank ATM machine was already placed inside the municipal hall.

But this system has yet to be fully implemented.

Baricuatro said that the culprits also attempted to steal the money inside the ATM machine because there were signs that someone had tried to open it.

In a separate interview, Department of Interior and Local Government Provincial Director Jerome Gonzales said every local government has a protocol on the handling of daily remittances—like the taxes collected during Pinamungajan’s fair last Friday.

“It is expected of us, local officials, to secure our premises,” Gonzales said. (Sun.Star Cebu)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 01, 2014.

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