Robbery gang leader caught at resort while jet-skiing

MANILA, Philippines - The fourth time's the charm in the case of the leader of a notorious robbery gang who was finally arrested as he was jet-skiing and sunbathing after giving the police the slip three times.

Chief Supt. Richard Albano, Quezon City Police District (QCPD) director, said 23-year-old Jonathan Cuya, leader of the Cuya robbery group, was sporting a tan when police tracker teams caught up with him Wednesday at a beach resort in Barangay (village) Barreto, Olongapo City, Zambales province.

Cuya and his brother Jose, 25; Michael Tolentino, 19; Martin Lalata and his brother Rodolfo-all suspected gang members-were "lying low" at the resort following a heist on Monday, Albano told reporters at a press conference Thursday.

They had made off with nearly P2 million (S$56,300) worth of cash and valuables after forcing their way into a house in Cubao, Quezon City, where they tied up all the family members.

When arrested, Cuya yielded a Colt .380 pistol which was among the items they took in the Cubao robbery. Albano said the recovery of the stolen gun as well as the victims' positive identification of Cuya would be enough to keep the gang leader in jail.

"He and his group are responsible for at least 12 robberies last year not only in Quezon City but in other parts of Metro Manila such as Caloocan City and Manila, and even in Rizal province," Albano told the Inquirer.

He said Cuya was also being linked to several cases of holdup and car theft, including a robbery with homicide case in New Manila, Quezon City, and that several warrants had been issued for his arrest.

According to Albano, Cuya's gang was also behind the Nov. 26, 2013, heist at the house of Chief Supt. Samuel Perez, chief for administration of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), in Project 6, Quezon City.

The BFP official was meeting with his men when an armed group barged in and took their jewelry worth around P100,000 (S$2,800).

QCPD-Criminal Investigation and Detection Unit (CIDU) head Chief Insp. Rodelio Marcelo told the Inquirer that his men at the theft and robbery section, led by Insp. Allan de la Cruz, failed to arrest Cuya in three previous operations.

"He has been very elusive. We were informed that he usually takes a vacation after every heist. We were told only that he usually laid low somewhere in Subic, Zambales," Marcelo said.

It took more than a week of surveillance before they were able to determine the resort where Cuya was staying, he added.

At 7 a.m. on Wednesday, tracker teams from QCPD-CIDU, the district investigation division and the Quezon City-based Criminal Investigation and Detection Group cornered the gang leader and his men.

"They never saw us coming. He and his men were not even able to go for their guns," Marcelo said, pointing out that three handguns, including the stolen firearm, were recovered from the suspects. "The guns were all loaded and ready."

Albano told reporters that Cuya had been in and out of jail for several years. "The law should have more teeth against repeat offenders. Maybe we should lobby Congress to amend the law so that those who commit crimes repeatedly would not be allowed to post bail," he said.

He also suggested raising the bail bond for recidivists.

According to QCPD deputy director for operations Senior Supt. Procopio Lipana, he has come across Cuya and his group three times. The first time he encountered the gang leader was in San Juan City in 2009.

Cuya was previously arrested in June after he was spotted driving a car allegedly stolen from the house of one of the gang's victims in Caloocan City. As in the Cubao heist, all the members of the household were tied up before their house was ransacked.

Cuya and his four cohorts face additional charges for robbery in band for the Cubao heist, on top of the charge for illegal possession of firearms and ammunition in the prosecutors' offices in Quezon City and Olongapo.