Posted on October 6, 2011


For 3rd time, Lhuillier jewelry heist pulled off after airport arrival
Four men in black police uniforms stopped their taxi at 10:30 a.m. in Lapu-Lapu City, pretending it was a drug bust.

At gunpoint, the driver was told to open the trunk.

Two M. Lhuillier pawnshop managers from Davao City watched helplessly as the armed men took their cell phones, a laptop and two backpacks containing jewelry pieces supposed to be delivered to the main office in Cebu City.

The holdup took place at the corner of the Airport Road and ML Quezon Highway, shortly after the victims flew in on a commercial flight from Davao.

How did the holduppers know the target?

And why was this happening again?

These were questions police investigators emphatically asked after the heist appeared a virtual repeat of the April 7, 2011, holdup of a van load of M. Lhuillier managers and a March 12, 2008, holdup of Cebuana Lhuillier managers at the foot of the Marcelo Fernan Bridge.

In the past two heists, out-of-town pawnshop managers were the target of armed men who waylaid their passing vehicles in Lapu-Lapu City shortly after the store managers flew in to Cebu.

Lawyer Bayani Atup, legal counsel for M. Lhuillier, yesterday said the jewelry taken from the Davao managers was worth at least P2 million but the figure may change after an inventory is completed.

Atup said he resented police statements in TV newscasts that insinuated that the holdup was deliberately staged as an inside job.

He said the company would ask the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to handle the inquiry because the police is “no longer objective.”

Atup said statements of Lapu-Lapu City police Chief Anthony Obenza, which appeared to blame M. Lhuillier management, were “premature.”

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) denied that the armed men dressed in black shirts with the label “PDEA” came from their ranks.

PDEA’s current uniform is green although they used to have black suits as standard gear.

A police alert was issued to stop the getaway car, a white Mitsubishi Lancer sedan with plate number GEW 862, heading for Mandaue City.

It was too late. The car had disappeared.

The victims were identified as Roberto Achura, 42, regional manager of M. Lhuillier based in Davao City, and John Arnel Desierto Sr., 46, area manager in Davao.

Their flight arrived at 9 a.m. in Mactan. They hired a yellow airport taxi at the arrival area and headed for Cebu City.

On the highway in barangay Pusok, Lapu-Lapu City, the driver stopped as other vehicles ahead of them also stopped for a traffic stop signal at the junction near Marina Mall.

Suddenly four men appeared and identified themselves as police and PDEA agents. They wore black uniforms and in a harsh manner declared that the taxi passengers were carrying illegal drugs.

One man was wearing a bonnet. Three were armed with handguns. One had an M-16 rifle.

At gunpoint, the passengers were divested of their mobile phones and a hand-carried laptop.

One “agent” instructed the taxi driver to open the baggage compartment then took two backpacks containing the jewelry.

Within minutes, the robbers were done. They left on board a sedan parked by the road.

Senior Supt. Obenza, Lapu-Lapu police chief, told reporters the manner of the heist and the planning that went into it were similar to two previous robberies in Lapu-Lapu City involving M. Lhuillier and Cebuana Lhuillier.

He said taxi driver Eduardo Pabonita, 45, was cooperating with the police to execute an affidavit.

When police investigators went to the crime scene, nobody came forward to describe what happened.
Obenza expressed surprise about the apparent lack of security arrangements for the jewelry delivery.

“We came up with an agreement with M. Lhuilier personnel and lawyers after that robbery incident last April this year that whenever they have movements such as transporting jewelry, they should inform our office for us to lay out a route for our personnel and to escort them for safety, but we were not informed,” Obenza said.

In last April’s holdup, it took M. Lhuilier staff a month to submit an inventory of missing jewelry to police.

Yesterday, the two Davao managers were not bringing an itemized list of the jewelry they carried. They said they sent it ahead electronically to their main office in Cebu City. Without the data, police were unable to assess the value of the stolen articles, said Obenza.

Atup said an internal investigation was being made by the company because it was “strange” that the robbers were able to detect the managers delivering jewelry.

Atup said M. Lhuillier management already adopted a rotation scheme among managers who would be carriers of valuables from their Mindanao branches to Cebu City.

The rotation scheme was done after the April 7 heist, where about P5 million in jewelry was stolen, he said.

David Mark Maramba, chief operating officer of PDEA-7, appeared in the police station to offer his help.

“We are here to dispel any doubts from the public that PDEA is involved here,” he said.

“We have standard procedures for arrests … we have badges. Currently, our standard uniform is a green polo shirt issued from the PDEA central office. We used to wear black suits during the early days of PDEA but not anymore.”

Lapu-Lapu City Mayor Paz Radaza said she hopes the robbery cases will be solved soon because it is a cause for worry of residents and tourists. /By Norman V. Mendoza and Jucell Marie Cuyos with a report by Jhunnex Napallacan and Chito Aragon

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