Not the Martilyo Gang? MOA robbers used pipe wrenches

Bea Cupin
Authorities will meet with SM management on possible lapses in its security measures following the latest incident in its mall

PANIC. Diners rush from a restaurant as a security officer and members of the PNP-SAF moves towards the scene of an attempted robbery on a jewelry store inside the SM Mall of Asia on Sunday, March 30. Photo by Noel Celis/AFP

MANILA, Philippines – Authorities have not ruled out the involvement of other groups in the botched robbery at the SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City on Sunday, March 30, despite earlier suspicions that it was the handiwork a crime group known to use hammers in its jewelry heists.

Southern Police District Director Chief Superintendent Jose Erwin Villacorte said in a phone interview on Monday, March 31, that the modus operandi of the group that attempted to rob a jewelry shop at the MOA was different from previous heists at SM Megamall and SM North EDSA attributed to the Martilyo (Hammer) Gang.

“Is it the same people? We do not know yet. Maybe, maybe not,” Villacorte said.

The SPD chief said that the pipe wrench used in the crime was not purchased inside the mall, unlike the robbery incident in SM North EDSA. He also said the group at MOA brought firearms with them.

“There is no DIY [do-it-yourself] store in SM MOA, so it was brought somewhere else. The difference here is that they brought in firearms,” Villacorte said.

On Sunday, March 30, armed men entered a jewelry store in SM MOA, leading to a shootout with the police. One person was injured, while police were able to apprehend 1 suspect, identified as a certain Bryan Bansawan alias Mahdi L. Abelin, according to a statement from the Pasay city government. 

Villacorte said the suspect will be charged with robbery with frustrated homicide, attempted homicide, and illegal possession of firearms.

SECURITY LAPSE? The police operation resulted in the arrest of 1 suspect, identified as a certain Bryan Bansawan alias Mahdi L. Abelin. Photo by Noel Celis/AFP

At the time of his arrest, the suspect had in his possesion one caliber .45 pistol and one magazine assembly with 7 live ammunition. Villacorte said police from the SPD are set to file charges before the city prosecutor, while also in pursuit of at least 9 others involved in the robbery.

Security lapses?

The SM management has been heavily criticized for the series of heists inside its major malls. Villacorte said based on CCTV footage from SM MOA, at least 8 people were seen participating in the robbery. Villacorte said police are working on enhancing CCTV footage to identify the suspects.

He added that the total number of suspects “will not go down below 10” since some others expectedly served as lookouts outside the mall.

The SPD chief said he and other police officers will be meeting with the SM MOA management to discuss possible lapses in the mall’s security measures. “The fact is nakapasok ‘yung mga baril ng suspects sa loob ng mall,” said Villacorte. (The fact is, the suspects were able to bring guns inside the mall.)

SM MOA management is also investigating its own security personnel.

Malls in the Philippines usually have security guards screening those who enter the mall. However, this practice proved to be futile in thwarting members of the “Martilyo Gang,” whose modus involves purchasing hammers inside the mall premises.

UNEXPECTED. Mall-goers opted to go home after the shooting incident. Photo by Noel Celis/AFP

The group’s last major heist in SM North EDSA even prompted officials to suggest that hammers and other similar objects be banned from sale inside malls. Instead, hammers and the like could only be claimed outside mall premises. (READ: Martilyo Gang reflex: Why not regulate hammer sale?)

Villacorte said they would speak to SM MOA’s management about the poor placement of the mall’s jewelry stores. “Kasi kamukha nito, this is very near the entrance kasi accessible sa mga magnanakaw,” he said. (In this case, the jewelry store is near the entrance so it’s accessible to robbers.) –


Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.