BACOLOD CITY — Four members of an organized crime group involved in a foiled robbery were arrested by personnel of Escalante City Police Station in separate operations that lasted until Tuesday night.

Chief Insp. Robert Mansueto, city police chief, identified the suspects as Robert Castellano, 28, of Himamaylan City; Melvin Cases, 27, of Escalante City; Jerry Balbuena, 37, Escalante’s fourth most wanted; and Bonifacio Palabrica Jr., 19, Escalante’s fifth most wanted.

All four are members of Palabrica Group, operating as gun-for-hires, with eight to 12 members, responsible for robbery-hold up cases and killings in northern Negros Occidental especially in the First District.

Palabrica Jr.’s father, Bonifacio Palabrica Sr., Escalante’s second most wanted, is the leader of the group.

Mansueto said that during the planned robbery, the suspects targeted Jocelyn Gatilogo, cashier of Negros Women for Tomorrow Foundation’s Project Dungganon, who withdrew PHP400,000 from a bank at around 1:30 p.m.

From the bank, Gatilogo boarded a motorcycle with his driver-companion Castellano, who was later identified as an accomplice.

Mansueto said it was a “pre-arranged hold-up” as Castellano slowed down so that the other suspects, who were also on board a motorcycle, could catch up with them.

Palabrica and Cases then grabbed the bag containing the cash from Castellano, and sped away. However, they hit a curb and their motorcycle fell on its side.

Seeing what happened, Gatilogo alighted from the motorcycle, grabbed the bag, and ran away.

One of the suspects came after her and drew his pistol, but bystanders came to the woman’s rescue, prompting the suspects to flee.

Mansueto said this is the second attempt of the suspects to rob the victim. The first one was on January 12, but it was also foiled by the presence of patrolling policemen.

Moreover, Mansueto said that when they checked the money, they counted only PHP300,000.

When they got hold of Castellano’s cellular phone, they discovered all his text messages with the other suspects – from the planning to the execution of the robbery, the police chief said.

Mansueto said they later found the remaining PHP100,000 inside the utility box of Castellano’s motorcycle.

To entrap the other suspects, the police chief said he pretended to be Castellano and texted his companions for a meeting at around 3:30 p.m.

They were supposed to meet at Barangay Mabini in Escalante City, but it didn’t push through when the suspects sensed the presence of policemen.

The next meeting was set at 5 p.m. in Crossing Temis, Barangay General Luna, Toboso town, where the two suspects were eventually cornered.

The fourth suspect, Balbuena, was arrested at Sarromar Subd., Barangay Poblacion 1, Sagay City at 10 p.m.

Mansueto said Balbuena and Palabrica have arrest warrants for murder.

He added that charges were filed against the four suspects, who are now in police custody, and their four companions, including two who have been identified and two John Does. PNA/northboundasia.com