SHE was arrested for stealing valuables in Cebu City restaurants about 15 years ago. Now she's allegedly back in Cebu with her "salisi" gang from Ormoc City, Leyte.
Celina Mendez, 54, was arrested in Ayala Center Cebu after a customer screamed when Mendez got hold of another woman's shoulder bag inside Sbarro restaurant last Tuesday noon.
Less than thirty minutes earlier, the same suspect had been seen in a camera footage stealing another woman's shoulder bag in Yakimix Restaurant on Escario St. in Camputhaw, Cebu City.
In both restaurants, Mendez was accompanied by three men, all of whom managed to escape.
Mendez is now behind bars after she was arrested by security guards in Sbarro, Ayala Center Cebu around 12 noon.
Mendez's group was not the only salisi (Tagalog for going in different directions) gang recently caught stealing bags in restaurants around Cebu City.
Another group, reportedly led by Abdul Jabar of the Mindanao region, was seen stealing a 55-year-old businessman's bag inside a Burger King branch in Panagdait, Barangay Mabolo last May 30.
The video surfaced on the social media platform Facebook only last Tuesday, a few hours after Mendez was arrested.
It was uploaded by Kenny Tiu, son of the victim, after his family asked for a copy of the video from the management of the restaurant.
Chief Insp. David Señor, Theft and Robbery Section chief of the Cebu City Police Office, said they could only identify Jabar out of the four suspects in the video because the faces of the other suspects were not clear.
They compared the video with the photo they had taken of Jabar after the suspect was caught in a salisi theft incident in a Mang Inasal branch on Colon St. last year.
Tiu's father lost nearly P30,000 cash, two iPhone 5 units and other valuables kept in the bag.
In the case of Mendez, she caught the attention of security guards, when, moments after a customer screamed, the owner of the bag stood from her seat and grabbed it from Mendez.
Mendez, however, resisted.
"Nag-inilugay sila sa bag sa biktima, naglinayogay, unya nidagan ang suspek, nagginukdanay na pod sila, diha na niapil ang mga gwardiya (They were both grappling for the bag, they fought, then when the suspect ran away, the victim and the guards chased her)," Señor recalled.
When Mendez was brought to Señor's office, she told the police official that she was only forced to steal because she had no other means of livelihood.
"Akong kumare man god nangagni nako mobalik (My friend enticed me to come back),” Mendez told TV5 Aksyon Bisaya.
She also told Señor that she was jailed in Cebu City in 2000, but was later released.
Mendez said she had been straight until recently.
Señor said that Mendez and her three companions do not stay long in Cebu City.
After victimizing restaurant customers in a day, Mendez's group would then travel back to Barangay Kanangga in Ormoc City.
Since the crime Mendez had committed is bailable, Señor said the suspect can post bail and go back to her salisi business again.
Had Mendez been able to escape after stealing the bag of Wenefreda Misa, 34, in Sbarro, she would have taken away at least P131,000 worth of cash and valuables.
The bag of Emery Sun Lee, whom Mendez had victimized in Yakimix at 11:51 a.m., was recovered in the suspect's hands together with Misa's bag.
Señor said they had first responded to Ayala Center Cebu, when a few minutes later, they received a theft alarm from Police Station 2 informing them of the incident in Yakimix, which happened earlier.
When they checked the closed circuit television camera footage, Mendez and her three male companions were also there.