The Philippines’ first and only industry magazine that deals with safety and security matters pervading the environment today.

Banking on Security

The Bank Security Management Association (BSMA) was formed to combat these threats. In existence since 1978, the BSMA is an association of bank security officers from 45 banks who, through cooperation with each other and coordination with related public and private agencies, try to keep banks abreast on the latest in bank security and how best to combat criminal elements. Its current president is Edwin Ermita of Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation.

According to retired General Willy Garcia, head of the Central Security Office of the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), the BSMA regularly coordinates with the Philippine National Police (PNP) in order to neutralize threats against banks. This cooperation is a key element in deterring and preventing crimes against banks and bank employees.

BSMA Programs

As part of its thrust to constantly improve bank security, the BSMA regularly conducts seminars for its members and trainings for those aspiring to be security guards. Available trainings for aspiring guards include a 36-hour armored car crew training and a 48-hour bank security training.

According to Ermita, these training programs were formulated in cooperation with the Philippine National Police, the Security Agency and Guard Supervision Division,  Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

“All guards to be posted in banks should undergo training at this BSMA training school,” Ermita explains. “It’s a specialized training for guards who will be assigned in banks.  If I am a guard, I cannot be assigned to a bank if I do not attend the BSMA training school.  Kasi merong general training for all guards.  This is specialized for banks. We are accredited by TESDA, SAGSD, and the BSP to do that training.”

Ermita adds that the banking industry was the first to take the initiative in training its guards.  “Other industries are supposed to have training for their own guards but we were the first. In fact, in Cagayan de Oro, the city council and the mayor requested us to conduct training in CDO for all guards assigned in banks, which we just concluded last month.”

The BSMA also spearheads interbank security efforts in order to reduce the costs of security. An example is its joint program with the banking consortium MegaLink to run an industry-wide shared roving security initiative centered on automated teller machines (ATMs).

Under this set-up, security agencies will conduct ATM inspections and physical monitoring, particularly after banking hours during the weekdays and 24 hours during the weekends. The cost of hiring these agencies is shared among the banks based on the number of each bank’s ATMs per area. The guidelines for this program are currently being formulated, with Ortigas being eyed as a pilot area.


The BSMA is a member of the Joint Anti-Bank Robbery Action Committee (JABRAC), a joint effort of the government and private sector to fight bank-related crimes. This consortium is made up of representatives from the PNP, National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), National Prosecution Service (NPS), the Banko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), Bankers Association of the Philippines (BAP), Bank Security Management Association (BSMA), Chamber of Thrift Banks (CTB), Rural Bankers Association of the Philippines (RBAP), and the Armored Services Association of the Philippines (ASAP).

JABRAC has proven to be very effective in combating bank crimes and neutralizing criminal syndicates. Ermita says JABRAC is crucial in providing a sort of one-stop shop for bank robbery investigations, adding that it simplifies everything.

“Kasi dati, may darating na unit sa Theft and Robbery, may dadating halimbawang napadaan na mobile, tapos CIDG, tapos kung sino-sino, so ang daming humahawak ng case. Pag maraming humahawak ng case, lahat yan mag-iinterview ng empleyado, so you can just imagine the stress of the bank employee.  So ngayon, may coordination.”
Ermita cautions though that there is still much work to be done. For instance, despite the violent nature of bank robbery, it is shocking to know that it is a bailable offense.

“We’re trying to pass a bill in Congress, the Bank Protection Act, to make bank robbery or bank crimes non-bailable.  As of the moment, it’s bailable so ang nangyayari, nare-recycle lang yung mga bank robbers, and as long as hindi sila nakakapatay, bailable pa din yung offense nila.

“Bank crimes can be linked to terrorism and in fact the act itself of robbing the bank with firearms is to me an act of terrorism.  Number two, it can be considered as economic sabotage.  In one month, billions are lost by the banking industry, not only through robberies but all sorts of bank crimes like fraud, theft, qualified theft, credit card fraud.  So now, what we’re doing is trying to fix the Bank Protection Act para naman maging non-bailable yung bank crime.”

This is a far cry from the situation in other countries. For instance, Ermita points out that in the United States, once there are two to three perpetrators with long firearms, that is already non-bailable.

“In other countries, like in Singapore, basta may dalang baril, non-bailable na kaagad yun.  Dito sa atin, in band na, 20-40 bank robbers, nagpapasabog ng M2O3 (grenade launcher), namamaril ng tao, and yet it’s bailable.  You can just imagine that they are getting so much money, and magkano lang ang bail.  And there are even some times na, okay nahuli yung grupo, padating pa lang presinto nung mga bank robbers, nandun na yung mga abogado, nakapag-post na ng bail. Magkano lang ang bail sa isang tao?  Sabihin mo nang Php50,000.  Sa sampu, Php 500,000.  Magkano naman yung nakuha nila?  10 million.”

Becoming a Bank Security Manager

It is also important for a bank’s chief security officer to know what he is doing. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) has issued a set of qualifications for bank security managers. These are:

  1. He must be at least 30 years old;
  2. He must be a college graduate; and
  3. He must have at least five years supervisory experience in law enforcement or security operations.

Under BSP guidelines, the bank security manager or officer has the following responsibilities:

  1. The development and administration of a security program acceptable to BSP;
  2. The conduct of continuing security awareness program among all bank employees to highlight that security is a common concern;
  3. Investigation of bank robberies/hold-ups, recommending the filing of appropriate charges in court as the evidence may warrant and assisting in the prosecution of the perpetrator(s) thereof;
  4. The establishment of an effective working relationship with the BSP, Philippine National Police (PNP), and other law enforcement agencies in the prevention of bank crimes and other natural and man-made hazards; and
  5. The conduct of continuing research and studies on new techniques, methods and equipment to enhance bank protection measures.

Garcia himself meets all these qualifications with flying colors. Before joining BPI, he was a PNP two-star general and director for operations of the PNP for nearly two years. Prior to that, he was District Director of Southern Police District. He has served as head of BPI’s Central Security Office for two years now.

Criminal Threats

Since criminal minds are continuously at work, the BSMA must always be one step ahead and be prepared for any eventuality; all the more since traditional bank heists—involving either a bank branch or an armored car—will always be there.

“Bank robberies, or hold-ups in bank premises, and armored car robberies are always a threat,” Garcia explains. “These are usually perpetrated by organized crime groups and syndicates.”
He adds that on the average each bank is hit by two heists on either one of its branches or armored cars every year. “Although the occurrence of robberies is not as common as other bank-related crimes as, say, ATM-related crimes, the impact on banks is huge because millions of pesos are lost.”

Fairly or unfairly, a bank branch’s security guard will always be a prime suspect in a robbery, Garcia says. “We always consider inside jobs when there is a robbery. That’s why we institute KYG, or the Know Your Guard policy. The guard is always a suspect in a bank robbery, so the important thing is to constantly rotate guards. Although from experience, not too many guards have been proven to be involved in bank robberies.”

According to Ermita, targeting a security guard has long been the modus operandi of some syndicates. “They penetrate some security agencies, they try to get some guards na maraming utang, maraming problema at hinihikayat nilang magpunta sa kanila, na magbigay ng tip, etc.”

Ermita says the latest modus operandi of other syndicates is a “shock and awe” approach. “Before, they started hitting premises, meaning the branches. When we hardened our targets, tinira naman nila yung tinatawag naming ‘after withdrawal’ robbery.  They hit our clients, riding in tandem.

“Now of course, that is not anymore the responsibility of the bank because once you’re out of the bank, it’s your own lookout.  Then they shifted to armored car.  Ngayon na nag-strengthen kami, bullet-proof lahat ng armored cars, ang ginawa naman nila, while in transit, meaning loading and unloading in between the door of the bank and the door of the armored car, kasi open yun, di ba?

“Ang style nila ngayon, they come in band, at least 20, they have lookouts, they have back-ups, they have people watching the traffic, and then, like what happened in Waltermart, imagine firing two M2O3 grenade launchers.  Ang purpose nila para manggulat.  It’s a good thing nobody was hurt.”

The most common crimes against banks, though, are perpetrated by petty criminals who strike during non-banking hours and are not necessarily out to crack a bank vault and steal what’s inside. “These types of criminals take advantage of nightfall and the absence of guards to steal anything in the bank premises.”

The overall monetary impact, though, of these crimes is minimal.
Garcia says newer threats have emerged of late, and most have centered on ATMs. “The machines are usually situated in public, making them prone to criminal elements. The modus operandi involves victimizing the clients with an ATM card.”

Lately, some criminal groups have grown bold enough to steal the entire ATM booth itself, as what happened early this year at a gasoline station along the South Luzon Expressway. That’s no easy feat considering the size and weight of an ATM machine. But it clearly underscores the lengths criminals will go nowadays to get the job done.

Garcia, though, says there has been a decrease in bank crimes, which he attributes to more enhanced security measures. Ironically, these measures were enhanced only after a carnage in a bank in Laguna.

“The Bloodiest Bank Robbery in History”
On the morning of May 16, 2008, the Cabuyao branch of the Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC) in Laguna was held up by heavily-armed men. Not content with robbing the bank of its money, the suspects shot and killed 10 people, mostly bank employees, execution-style before fleeing.

The police called it “the bloodiest bank robbery in history.” It’s one thing for a shootout to claim the lives of people during a robbery, and it’s quite another for the victims to be murdered one by one with a bullet to the head.

The attack was so brazen, so shocking, that it prompted to the BSP issue revised guidelines on bank security as the existing guidelines at the time were found to be inadequate. It was learned that the RCBC Cabuyao branch did not have any closed-circuit cameras that would have helped identify the perpetrators, and that the bank’s alarm system did not work. The previous guidelines merely “encouraged” bank branches to install said cameras.

JABRAC, meanwhile, convened three days after the massacre to discuss new security measures. And as if to further drive home a touchy point, JABRAC urged the BSMA to “make security on top of the bank’s priorities.”

The PNP also “recommended that alarm systems and closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems must be among the priorities of banks, including other security measures.”

The National Union of Bank Employees (NUBE) also got into the act, calling on the government and banks to “adopt preventive measures” to deter similar incidents in the future. The NUBE also urged the BSP to “exercise greater supervision and monitoring of banks’ security systems.”

On September 3, 2008, BSP Governor Amando Tetangco signed BSP Circular 620, otherwise known as the Revised Rules on Bank Protection. Among the Circular’s main objectives included provisions on bank protection are those requiring each bank to “adopt an adequate security program commensurate to its operations, taking into consideration its size, location, number of offices and business operations.”

Tetangco, in a speech to the BSMA last January, commented on the circular as follows: “The objective of this circular is to strengthen and broaden the security of banks to cover not only physical security but also other crimes perpetrated against banking institutions, such as external and internal frauds, cash in transit operations as well as the conduct of investigation of such cases. This means that the concept of bank security management now goes beyond guard force deployment and monitoring.”

Specifically, the provision called for the minimum security measures including:
A guard system calling for  all banking offices to be “manned by an adequate number of security personnel to be determined by the bank, taking into consideration its size, location, costs and overall bank protection requirement: Provided, That cash centers shall be manned by an adequate number of security guards as may be necessary during banking hours.  For this purpose “Cash centers” shall refer to branches which also handle the cash requirements of other branches of the same bank;”

Security devices, requiring the “installation, operation and maintenance, as individually appropriate, of the following security devices in each banking office:

  1. A time delay device in the cash vault/safe;
  2. A lighting system for illuminating the area around the vault, if the vault is visible from outside the banking office;
  3. Tamper-resistant locks on exterior doors and windows;
  4. A robbery alarm system or other appropriate device for promptly notifying the nearest law enforcement office either directly or through an intermediary of an attempted, ongoing or perpetrated robbery;
  5. Anti-burglary or intrusion system capable of detecting promptly an attack on the outer doors, walls, floor or ceiling of the bank premises, including the vault(s); and
  6. Such other devices like the closed circuit television (CCTV) and video recording system appropriate to deter the commission of bank crimes and assist in the identification and apprehension of the culprit/s. Each bank shall install, operate and maintain security devices which are expected to give a general level of bank protection equivalent, at least, to the standards prescribed under this Circular.”

Other parts of the circular discussed the installation of vaults and safes, adequate protection for ATMs and the immediate premises of the bank office, and guidelines on armored car operations.
Banks will always live under the constant threat of attack from criminal  elements. Bank security will thus always be an evolving concept, keeping in step with the changing times, and you can be sure the BSMA will be at the forefront of these changes. •