Second of two parts
MANILA – For years she was at the forefront of the campaign against crime where members of her community—families of Chinese descent—fell victim.
And today, long-time anti-crime crusader Teresita Ang See is back at it, this time fighting the same evil in new clothing: Chinese nationals being abducted not by kidnap gangs but loan sharks preying on gamblers.
At the office of her group, a citizen's organization against crime, in Intramuros on June 11, Ang See was on the phone speaking to a family of a Chinese national supposedly kidnapped here with his boss.
The victim’s family, based in Cyprus, could only speak in Chinese and was asking Ang See to help coordinate with authorities.
For Ang See, it was déjà vu. She had seen it before, in the late ’90s to the early 2000s, when kidnappings of Filipino-Chinese victims thrived.
But the crusader, along with authorities, is dealing with a new creature. This time, it's Chinese loan shark gangs abducting their own compatriots who can't pay back debts.
“It’s happening almost every other day. It’s repeating history,” she said.
Data from the Philippine National Police (PNP) Anti-Kidnapping Group (AKG) show an increasing number of kidnap-for-ransom cases involving Chinese nationals, albeit far fewer compared to hundreds of incidents in previous decades.
In 2018, 17 Chinese nationals were kidnapped, more than double (112.5 percent) compared to 8 in 2017.
In the first half of 2019, 6 Chinese nationals were kidnapped.
The incidents came amid the influx of Chinese tourists and workers in the Philippines as ties between Manila and Beijing have become friendlier.
The Chinese are among the top tourists in the Philippines, with 1.25 million arrivals last year, contributing 12.7 percent to the Philippines’ gross domestic product.
Chinese workers have also been coming in droves, many employed in online gaming firms. Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III told a Senate hearing in February that around half of the total 169,000 alien employment permits issued by his office over the last 3 years were for Chinese nationals.
PNP-AKG director Police Brig. Gen. Glenn Dumlao said majority of kidnapped Chinese nationals were victims of Chinese loan shark syndicates who would entice them to borrow money to play in casinos.
If the victims failed to pay them back, they were held for ransom.
“Almost all of the kidnappings happened in the Entertainment City, in the vicinity of MOA (Mall of Asia) involving those who go to casino and those in the online (gaming),” Dumlao said, estimating that there could already be more than 100,000 Chinese employees in the online gaming industry in the Philippines.
VICTIMS ENTICED TO GAMBLE, SIGN WAIVERS OF VOLUNTARY DETENTION
According to Ang See’s anti-crime group Movement for the Restoration of Peace and Order (MRPO), some of the victims were invited to work in the Philippines.
But before they started employment, they were enticed to gamble first to learn the ropes.
The MRPO believes the actual number of cases could be 5 times the police figure as several are unreported. The group said there were some cases where victims were killed.
“The incidents proliferated in geometric progression the past few years. The main problem is, very rarely do the victims file a case or pursue a case even if already filed,” the group said.
One case is the murder of Charlie Chua. His body was recovered in a creek in General Trias, Cavite, close to the casino hub in Parañaque City.
He went missing for several days after having dinner with friends who invited him to work for an online gambling firm on Feb. 20 this year, according to his relatives.
Another victim was Zhu Fang Mei. Although he was rescued from his captors on Jan. 16 in Taguig City, he later died in a hospital due to severe head injuries after he was tortured by his abductors.
The group said the threat of loan shark syndicates has even led to suicides, with those unable to pay their debt forced to take their own lives.
“Crimes related to casino or online gambling are on the rise. They no longer just result in torture and extortions but also…kidnapping, suicides and outright homicide and murders,” MRPO said.
It continued: “Unable to pay for the losses, they are then kept in a safe house, beaten and tortured until their families pay off. But a few victims decide to jump off tall buildings to spare their families the agony of paying off debts that their family cannot afford to pay.”
Addressing the problem has been challenging for the PNP-AKG.
In some cases, according to Dumlao, victims themselves signed waivers from loan sharks where they agreed to be detained until paying off their gambling debt.
“Nagkakaroon ng problema kasi there’s a voluntary act sa mga umuutang kaya ’pag tinitingnan mo sa CCTV, walang violence, walang restraint, walang squabble,” he said. “Kaya minsan nadi-dismiss ’yung kaso kasi walang makita na kuwan, tapos may agreement sa utang.”
(A problem arises when there’s a voluntary act by the borrower. That is why when you look at the CCTV [footage], there was no violence, no restraint, no squabble. That is why sometimes, the case is dismissed because there is nothing to see, and then there was an agreement to the loan.)
The PNP-AKG recently signed a memorandum of agreement with security managers of casinos to work together towards aggressive action against loan shark activities. They also have constant coordination with the Chinese Embassy in Manila to address the crime.
Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Sta. Romana said Chinese authorities are concerned about the kidnapping incidents in the Philippines.
“Based on my discussions with Chinese diplomats and officials, it is their concern because it involves Chinese lives, the safety of Chinese abroad so I think there are ongoing discussions particularly between the 2 law enforcement agencies,” he said in a telephone interview from Beijing.