It was a chilling scene. Around 9 p.m. last Monday, a light-colored van was parked next to the sidewalk when suddenly a woman was pulled and yanked inside the van by two men. She momentarily managed to open the door, but was pulled back inside while she screamed and struggled. The van then sped away with its door still open.
What made the incident extra-chilling was that it took place not in a dark obscure alley but on Paseo de Roxas corner Perea Street in the Makati financial district. Vehicles regularly whiz by on this thoroughfare, and its sidewalks are filled with commuters and bystanders.
Eyewitnesses confessed to being alarmed, but hesitated to act because the kidnappers could have been armed.
It has been days since the incident took place, and so far police can only say that the victim and kidnappers were all Chinese. This might explain the curious complacency of law enforcers, who appear to display little or no sense of urgency to go after the perpetrators.
The Philippine National Police Anti-Kidnapping Group (PNP-AKG) has said that the incidence of kidnapping cases in the country is rising and that Chinese nationals are involved “in more than half of the cases.” A news report quoted PNP-AKG spokesperson Lt. Col. Jowel Saliba as saying that of the 75 kidnapping cases reported this year, 42 were linked to Philippine offshore gaming operators (Pogos) and casinos. A total of 27 cases have been resolved, claimed the PNP, leading to the arrest of 88 suspects.
The motive for these crimes? Kidnappings of Pogo workers “usually involve Chinese employees who had run away due to lack of proper compensation and benefits from employers,” explained the police. Workers are abducted and then forced to return to work by their employers. Other Chinese victims may usually be tourists lured by loan sharks to borrow large amounts to be used in casinos. Once the tourists fail to settle their debt, they are kidnapped and tortured, the footage then sent to their families back home to force them to pay ransom.
Ever since the deluge of Chinese workers into the country, Filipinos have had to put up not just with skyrocketing real estate prices as many urban dwellers find themselves forced out of now-unaffordable places for rent, but also with the unruly behavior of many of these foreign workers who seem to have no qualms violating city ordinances, such as, for instance, the ban on public smoking, which is applied heavily on Filipino violators. Now locals are faced with rising criminality as well among the visitors’ ranks. Aside from the alarming kidnappings and deaths (remember the Chinese worker who fell to his death while apparently escaping his former employer?), reports have emerged of prostitution rings in which young Chinese and Filipino women are involved.
Though authorities have said they are moving vigorously against the kidnap syndicates and prostitution rings, Saliba for one expressed “dismay” that “in most cases charges against the suspects were being dismissed after (arriving at) an amicable settlement with their victims.” Saliba also admitted that the Pogo-related crimes have been “draining” their resources, adding that they are “continuously coordinating” with other concerned agencies including the Chinese Embassy to address the problem.
It must be stressed that gambling is considered a crime in China, which must explain the relocation of so many Chinese workers to places like our country where offshore gambling is not just considered legal but even welcomed. But given how criminality has followed close on the heels of the proliferation of Pogos and is further straining the local law enforcement and justice systems, it’s time to ask if this industry, given its dubious byproducts, is worth the official embrace the government has given it so far.
Impatience with the latter-day Chinese “invasion” has shifted from complaints about congestion and noise levels to the growing threat of crime and lawlessness spilling out from the hermetic world of gambling to the everyday lives of ordinary law-abiding Filipinos.
The possibilities are mind-boggling. What if the kidnappers of that woman on Paseo de Roxas happened to be armed and trigger-happy? What if one onlooker was bold enough to interfere? This may be a case of Chinese criminals preying on other Chinese—but the day may not be too far away when Filipinos fall victim as well to this spate of imported criminality.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.