Jane*, a psychology major, was eating in a food establishment along Taft. Unaware of her surroundings, a group observed her for a considerable amount of time. As she was eating her lunch, one of the group’s members snuck behind her and discretely snatched her bag. Only seconds too late did she notice her bag is missing, with the snatcher no longer in sight.
These kinds of situations occur outside the University at certain times, and are done through schemes called modus operandi, a Latin phrase which means “method of operation.” Several notorious groups employ these methods coming in different forms to steal valuables from unsuspecting victims.
Perpetrators of these crimes are well aware of Taft Avenue being a university belt, with students carrying gadgets such as cellphones and laptops to school. This has led to the area becoming a hub for them to carry out these modus operandi.
The 19th Crime Prevention Week was celebrated last September to serve as a reminder for people – especially students who are often the main victims – to be constantly vigilant of the dangers lurking along Taft, and The LaSallian presents some of these modus operandi which have shown no signs of abating any time soon.
‘UAAP tickets’ scam
Out of previous issues on scalpers selling overpriced UAAP tickets, other scams have also taken place in the same scenario. Based on information provided by Jessa Lacadin, a recent graduate, a particular scammer which she believes to be named as Jenny Rivera gained access among some Facebook group pages managed by DLSU students.
Prior to game one of the UAAP 76 Finals between DLSU and UST, Rivera announced she was selling tickets that were apparently overpriced. Lacadin shares that she was surprised to find that some students still opted to buy the tickets.
Through negotiations in Facebook private messages, Rivera then requested for payments to be directed to her bank account. Student remained oblivious to the fact that this particular bank account was entitled to a certain Krista Mia.
Lacadin believes Mia was the supplier of Rivera for the UAAP tickets. Rivera also promised that the students could claim the tickets and meet up in a particular place one to two days after depositing the payment into her account, but she never showed up. Moreover, Lacadin notes that Rivera eventually changed her Facebook name to ‘Edwin Dela Cruz’ during game two between DLSU and UST, and held a second round of the scam.
According to Dionisio Escarez, Director of the Security and Safety Office (SSO), the Salisi Gang is considered as the most common perpetrators of modus operandi outside the University. Commonly, they target students who leave their things unattended, especially in open and well-populated places. At times, they also disguise themselves as students.
Based on firsthand information by street vendors, an example of those victimized by the Salisi Gang would be the case of Benny*, a freshman student who left his bag unattended along the tables in Agno to buy food. Manipulating the well-populated eating area and disguising themselves as students, the Salisi Gang members easily stole Benny’s bag.
Jan*, a parking boy along Taft Avenue, shares that the gang operates in other places such as computer shops. He explains that the scheme involves three people. One of them drops change next to an unsuspecting customer, then asks the customer if it belongs to them. This would distract the victim and convinces him or her to look down on the floor for the change, giving a second person the opportunity to steal the victim’s belongings. These are then passed on to a third person, who immediately leaves the vicinity before the victim even notices.
Riding in Tandem
Task Force Safe Schools (TFSS) Member Brigadier General Lito S. Tabangcura AFP (Ret.) notes that motorcycles are commonly used nowadays to commit crimes of ‘Riding in Tandem.’ TFSS was a joint project of DLSU, DLS-CSB and St. Scholastica’s College formed back in 2002. It was meant to bolster security efforts among the three schools by focusing on community-based efforts, wherein students and residents could involve themselves in tracking the perpetrators of crimes.
Like the Salisi Gang, perpetrators of Riding in Tandem would also be on the lookout especially for students loitering right outside the University. Tabangcura advises that when walking along the sidewalk in front of DLSU, it is important for students to be conscious of their surroundings, or else they become potential victims.
Escarez provides a classic case on how this type of crime is committed. Chris* recently had his customary ‘happy Thursday’ and had been under the influence, thus was barely aware of his surroundings as he walked along the sidewalk in front of the Velasco building. Chris was on his phone. Moments later, a group riding a motorcycle sped up towards him then snatched his phone in an instant.
Other cases similar to Riding in Tandem include that of a second year DLSU student back in November 2012. Based on a story previously published by The LaSallian, a pedicab driver snuck behind the student to snatch her necklace right before she entered North Gate. The pedicab driver named Victor Meneses, 22, was found to be a member of the Sputnik Gang, a prison group. This suggested that Meneses had been released from prison at that time.
Budol-budol is a form of modus operandi where a person is believed to be hypnotized into giving his or her money or gadgets in exchange for a large monetary return. There are various forms of this modus, with the perpetrator pretending to be somebody from the province asking for directions, or a friend or relative that the victim has not met for a long time.
Kiko*, a street vendor, explains that after establishing contact with the victim, the thief hypnotizes the victim and proceeds to asks for some money in order to help them with “an errand”, promising to return with a large reward. The suspect either never returns, or hands over a bag of counterfeit money.
Ativan is a drug containing sedative, which induces sleepiness. The Ativan Gang uses this drug as a means of committing theft, and they have been successful for several years. The Ativan Gang has also victimized tourists in the past. According to Metro-Journal Online, a Korean tourist whose cash worth Php 500,000 was stolen from him through an assault of the sedative on a handkerchief.
Escarez explains that members of the Ativan Gang would usually approach and befriend a victim, and then asks if they could eat and drink together. The members of the gang would secretly mix up the victim’s food and drinks with Ativan. Minutes after ingesting the drug, the victim would begin to feel sleepy and weak. This gives the gang an opportunity to steal the victim’s possessions.
In some cases, a bogus fraternity group would approach a single victim asking him to join their group. Once the victim agrees to join, the group would then request the victim to locate a certain person but must entrust his or her belongings to the group. The victim would be convinced that the group considers this as part of their requirements to be accepted in the bogus fraternity. However, by the time the victim returns to report that he did not find the person, the group would have already left together with the victim’s belongings.
Addressing the crimes
Escarez notes that one problem among the six modus operandi is that victimized students usually file the cases at times when the perpetrators would already be difficult to track. As such, the priority should be on the prevention of the crimes, since apprehension would not be as effective.
The SSO, however, has also been successful in tracking these perpetrators, as in the previous case of Kristjan Bayle (II, AB-OCM). According to an online article of The LaSallian last March 2013, an outsider entered the Miguel building and stole Bayle’s Macbook. Although the outsider was eventually caught and apprehended by the SSO, Bayle’s Macbook was no longer retrievable.
Meanwhile, Tabangcura cites that in the past quarter of TFSS’ operations, crime incident reports wherein students were victims have dwindled, which he stresses is the result of the TFSS’ effective measures.
“Because of the creation of TFSS, we have spotters sa labas (outside, along Taft), which has been very effective. Kahit may tumakbo pa papunta ng Ocampo Street, nahahabol pa rin namin,” [Even if the perpetrators run towards Ocampo Street, we are still able to track them down.] he explains. He furthers that the scope and measures they use in catching perpetrators were strengthened, since they have also been recognized by different barangays.
On the other hand, TFSS Chair Mela Lazatin explains that the students’ participation and volunteerism in TFSS would further strengthen security efforts among the schools involved in the joint project. “Yung maitatawid natin sa kanila (students) ay ang kusa sa bawat Pilipino, na kung may kailangan na tulong ay ang mga studyante mismo tutulong [What we can impart to the students is the initiative to provide urgent assistance for their fellow Filipinos],” she furthers.
*names were changed to protect anonymity of sources