It was three years ago, a full week before Christmas day.
Nenita, 56, and her son Ian, 16, have just finished hearing mass at the Our Lady of EDSA Shrine in Mandaluyong when three men approached them. One of the men grabbed her son saying, “Eto nga (Here he is.)”
The man was ready to punch Ian who instinctively moved his hand across his face.
Although scared and confused, Nenita quickly moved forward and asked, “Ano ho ba ‘yun? Ano ang problema (What is it? What is the problem?)”
One of the men retorted, “kaano-ano mo ba ito? Inupakan nito ang anak ko, (who is he to you? He beat up my son.)”
“Huh?” she asked. “Saan? Kelan? Hindi ho kami tigarito (Where and when? We are not from around here.)
“Eh, siya ang tinuro nitong kaibigan ng anak ko (my son’s friend says he’s the one),” said the man motioning with his thumb in the direction of the smaller, much younger man.
“Hindi gagawin ng anak ko ‘yan (my son won’t do that),” she managed to mumble, grabbing her son by the shoulder even as the smaller man stepped closer towards them.
“Upakan na natin ‘yan (let’s beat him up),” said the other man.
“Sandali (Wait),” she said as the three grabbed hold of his son. “Ano ba naman kayo. Huwag naman kayo ganyan (what is this? Don’t be like that.)”
“Mabuti sumama kayo sa amin (It’s better if you come with us),” suggested the older guy. “Pagharapin natin sila. Andun lang naman ang anak ko naghihintay sa may jeepney stop (Let’s make them confront each other. My son is over there by the jeepney stop).”
Feeling relieved, thinking that she might have knocked a bit of sense from the three she said, “o sige, buti pa nga. Willing naman kami (ok, that’s better and we are willing).
“Pero teka baka tumakbo kayo (But you might run off),” said the man. “Para insurance na sasama talaga kayo, kailangan iwan ninyo dito sa kasama ko ang inyong gamit.” (As insurance, leave your things here with one of our men).”
“Wala kaming dala kahit ano,” she blurted. (“We don’t have anything with us.”)
Quickly one of the men referred to his son and said, “eto may cellphone ito (he has a cellphone).”
“O, yun na lang, akin na ang mga cellphone ninyo (ok, you can leave the cellphone here),” the man ordered.
Nenita, quickly agreed wanting to put an end to it all. “O, ayan. Sige na. Asan ba ‘yang anak mo? (Here you go, so where is your son), she asked.
“Maghintay kayong dalawa diyan babalikan namin kayo (wait here and we will be back),” the leader barked.
Nenita and his son stood transfixed under the shadow of the towering image of the Holy Mother as the men walked away calmly with their cellphones never to be seen again.
To this day, Nenita couldn’t believe how quick and easy it was for the men to have robbed them in broad daylight and in a crowded place.
“Ang bilis nila (they were very smooth),” she recalled. “Parang sanay na sanay na ba.” (As though they were very used to it).
And they really were.
According to statistical findings provided by the police, almost all of the criminals plying the streets of the metropolis are repeat offenders. They have done the deed more than once. And they rarely change their modus, always aiming for the quick buck.
The usual target? The crazy, unsuspecting Christmas lot.
A survey conducted by the United Nations International Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) and the Crime Prevention and Coordination Service of the National Police Commission (Napolcom) showed that the bulk of urban crimes during Christmas are crimes against property.
Noteworthy, too, is the fact that most of these relate to personal theft and are often committed elsewhere in the city in areas where the victim seems to not know a lot of. Also, more than half of the victims do not know the offenders.
The most common items taken by these criminals are cash, cell phones, other forms of simple appliances (audio and video equipment), pieces of jewellery, wristwatches and clothing.
“It’s truly like that during Christmas. With large crowds in places like Divisoria, Recto or other shopping malls, the thieves are there. When Christmas draws near, we receive a lot of incident reports,” said one barangay executive.
The official made it clear why he didn’t want to be named for this piece.
“There are policemen who coddle criminals,” he said almost nonchalantly, as if it was the most common thing in the world.
“Alam mo na mahirap magsalita (It is very difficult to talk about these thigns),” he said. It is for the same reason he said that most of the criminals are known to them.
“It’s the same faces each year. Look at these people. We detain them but every year, they come back at Christmas time,” he said.
Not all of these thieves are protected by bad men in uniform. “Of course not all police are bad. But there are others there who are veterans at these things, even without a patronizing policeman to protect him They are hardened criminals.”
Catching criminals is not new to this veteran barangay official. “We are not afraid. Here in Divisoria we catch someone almost everyday. The problem is no one complains. If they make up for the loss they forget about it,” he said.
The styles that thieves use are almost similar in fashion. They are all executed fast.
“They are fast. With lightning speed. Before you become aware the thief is gone,” he said.
And they are committed in the same areas — in car parks, near ATM machines, the gates of the mall and all usual targets.
Some of the attacks are brazen while some are discreet. Others intimidate the victim while some deceive.
He sees no end in sight for the problem. For as long as there is a fool around or plays the fool, there will always be someone who will attempt to take advantage of someone, he said.
Not that the government is not doing anything.
With less than a month before Christmas, some 550 additional policemen were deployed in malls and commercial centers in Metro Manila to curb robberies and other crimes against persons and property.
Senior Superintendent Dionardo Carlos, spokesman of the PNP National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO), said the policemen will serve at police assistance centers in malls and commercial centers while those from the police districts will conduct regular patrol duties.
“These policemen are doing administrative duties in Camp Crame and the NCRPO. They would be deployed from 8 AM to 4 PM in areas where rampant cases of crimes against persons are recorded,” Carlos said in an interview.
Carlos expressed hope that the deployment of additional policemen out on patrol would further reduce the crime rate for the whole of December.
“If this is the case, we just take extra precaution,” said Elmer, a self-confessed thief that only ply his anomalous trade during Christmas season.
According to Elmer, the run and gun style of a snatcher is not his style. At least not anymore. “Nabugbog na ako sa Quiapo dati sa ganyan (I have been beaten up in Quiapo before because of that),” he said.
“Ngayon pautakan ang laban. Simple lang ang atake tsaka dapat mabilisan (it’s all about who is the wiser. Make simple moves and make them fast,)” he said.
Elmer favors upscale malls. He said those who carry big money are usually cowards. They are quickly confused and sometimes they will let you go because they know they can quickly replace what was lost.
But he vividly remembers one incident that still give him the shivers. “Intsik eto, binatilyo. Sinundan ko pagpasok sa mall. Mabilisan nilapitan ko ng makatiyempo. Tinakot ko tapos kinapa ko kaagad ‘yung cellphone. P**a biglang naglapitan sa akin mga bodyguard. Akala ko katapusan ko na.” (“It was a young man, Chinese. I followed him to the mall. I quickly approached him to find an opportunity, scared him and felt him up for a cellphone. His bodyguards quickly approached me. I thought I was finished.”)
He was taken to an unfamiliar area, which he thought was somewhere in Cavite. But all he got was a couple of slaps and kicks. He was let go by the boy’s bodyguards eventually.
He said he’s very careful now and would choose his victims very cautiously.
Ironically, Elmer said he will still dare go on a crime spree this Christmas.
“Wala eh. Kung may pera lang bakit pa? Pero siyempre wala eh. Ayaw ko namang mag noche-buena ng asin (But I don’t have any money and I don’t want to be hungry this Christmas),” he said.
Elmer gave some tips on how to avoid getting robbed.
1. BE DISCREET
If your money, jewelry and expensive things are out on display, you will become a target, Elmer said.
2. ALWAYS TRAVEL IN GROUPS
Thieves often look for those who are alone. Victims who are alone find it difficult to ask for help from strangers, Elmer emphasized.
3. LOOK TOUGH AND SMART
“Medyo kabado ako kapag tipong mukhang papalag. ‘Yung tipong sisigaw o lalaban (I get nervous when the person looks like someone who will fight back or scream), Elmer said.
4. BE ALERT
“‘Yun kasi istrokis namin. Tatantyahin namin ang biktima. Una niyang sasagiin namin o susundan. Pag tipong mabilis makaamoy iwas na (That is our strategy. We analyze the victim. First we bump into them or follow them. If that person starts to sense that something is wrong, we let it go),” Elmer said.
5. STAY WHERE THERE ARE COPS
“Siyempre ‘pag andyan si tatang alalay kami. Mahirap na (It common sense. When the cops are around, we don’t take risks),” Elmer said.