Flashback. December 13, 2014.
I fell victim to a pickpocket in a bar in Bonifacio Global City last month while my friends and I were celebrating our victorious return from Mt. Apo. We already had a few drinks when we decided to bring the fun out. The bar was jam-packed and we found ourselves squeezing our way inside. A few minutes later, the bouncer called my attention: my sling bag was unzipped. Oh my, there was a thief in the bar and my iPhone was missing!
To cut the story short, a woman was arrested that night after trying to take off with a dozen of valuables- smart phones, wallets, cash. But my phone was not with her unfortunately. Obviously, she was not the only thief in the house. By the way, this happened at the URBN Bar and Kitchen in BGC. The management told me not to publish the bar’s name. But what right do they have? Security of their guests must be bar management’s top priority. They let us down when they allowed us to be robbed by those thieves blending in with the crowd.
I tried to track my phone through iCloud’s Find my Iphone feature, which automatically turns on the Activation lock. This makes it difficult for anyone to use or sell any apple product if it is lost or stolen. Every time they turn on the phone, it would ask for the owner’s Apple ID and password.
A day after the incident, the tracker located my phone at the Greenhills Shopping Center. I got the alert through an email. “All souls go to heaven and all phones go to Greenhills,” a friend joked. I filed a police report and sought the help of the San Juan police. But at this point, I already lacked the interest to go through the hassle of chasing the phone. Note that this happened during the Christmas season while everyone was busy buying gifts and attending dinners and parties. I didn’t want to ruin my Christmas. I finally said: “Ahh, I am letting this go.”
A month later. January 16, 2015.
I got a text message from an unknown number saying they found my phone. They bought it without the knowledge that it was stolen. They described my phone. That’s it! It was my phone. I realized I registered my mobile number in iCloud in case someone finds it. They said they bought it but they could not use it. I immediately called them. A male voice answered the phone. Instinctively, I asked: “Where did you buy it, and for how much?” He said at “SM North, P4, 500.” He sounded apologetic and assured me that “they” were good people. I asked him to give me time think.
It turned out I was talking to a young couple studying at the University of Sto. Tomas. They gave me their full names and student numbers. The girlfriend answered my text message when I said I wanted to give them P4, 500 so I could get my phone back. I was willing to buy my phone for that amount with the thought that I wasn’t expecting it to be back to me anyway. But then, the girlfriend changed the story and told me they bought it at P15, 000. She was begging me to give her my apple ID in exchange for the payment of the unit. She promised to pay me P2, 000 monthly for 10 months. For one entire day, she kept on sending me messages, saying she must show a working iPhone to her parents who thought she had bought a new one. This was when I began to be suspicious. What if they were in connivance with the thief? What if the thief was using them as fronts?
Good thing, I was too busy then to make the decision. Pope Francis at the time was in the Philippines for a five-day visit and I was part of the team covering him. I really had no time for them and this iPhone. I told her I will meet her a day after Pope Francis’ departure.
One colleague who had lost her iPhone thrice and got them back twice through GPS and her fighting spirit advised me to entrap the girl and her boyfriend with the police’s help.
It was not an easy decision. I initially thought of agreeing to her scheme of getting the P2, 000 monthly payment. It was a lost phone anyway. But then my wise brother helped me sort things out.
“Hmmm, how can you make a decision that is both merciful and just?” he said, thinking out loud.
Be just. It was a stolen phone. Under the Anti-Fencing law of 1979, buying a stolen good and keeping it knowing that it was stolen are criminal acts. The law is on my side. Here are the important provisions of the law, also known as the Presidential Decree 1612.
Section 2. (a) “Fencing” is the act of any person who, with intent to gain for himself or for another, shall buy, receive, possess, keep, acquire, conceal, sell or dispose of, or shall buy and sell, or in any other manner deal in any article, item, object or anything of value which he knows, or should be known to him, to have been derived from the proceeds of the crime of robbery or theft.
Section 5. Presumption of Fencing. Mere possession of any good, article, item, object, or anything of value which has been the subject of robbery or thievery shall be prima facie evidence of fencing.
Bingo. Section 5 alone says I can press charges against the people keeping my phone. Buying the phone from them or giving them my Apple ID makes me a participant in the crime, of which I was a victim.
I was more inclined to ask the police to entrap them. But my brother cautioned me: “But are you being merciful?” If these people are real students, a criminal complaint would ruin their records and would cause them great embarrassment. You would cause them harm.
The best decision was simply to demand the phone back. All or nothing. No conditions.
I was able to verify through the girl’s password to her student account on a UST website that they were indeed students. The girl is on her second year of taking Asian Studies.
As calm and polite as I can be, I told them my decision. I enlightened them about the Anti-Fencing Law provisions. I even offered to help get their money back by pursuing a case against the person who sold them my phone. We can get their money back the right way.
They eventually agreed, probably after realizing the potential repercussions of their actions. I asked them to meet me at a police station so we could begin to file a complaint and plan to get the original fence.
Hours before our scheduled meetup, however, they told me they would return the phone, but not file a case as they fear for their own safety.
At noon time of January 21, the phone found its owner.
I am not sure what to make of this. I hope I’ve made the right decision without harming anyone.