Philippines, China Agree to Crack Down on Kidnap-for-Ransom Gangs

Luis Liwanag
Philippines, China Agree to Crack Down on Kidnap-for-Ransom Gangs National police chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, who at the time served as chief of police for the Philippine capital region, speaks to reporters in a Manila suburb after the arrest of 277 Chinese nationals linked to an alleged online investment scam syndicate, Sept. 16, 2019.

Public safety leaders in Manila and Beijing agreed during a virtual meeting to boost efforts against gangs blamed for kidnapping and holding for ransom Chinese nationals who work at online casinos and elsewhere in the Philippines. 

National police chief Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, joined by other top Philippine police officials, met on Thursday with Wang Xiaohong, the vice minister of China’s Ministry of Public Safety. 

“The Philippine National Police and the Ministry of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China moved to strengthen cooperation and collaboration on mutual law enforcement and transnational security concerns affecting both countries,” according to a statement issued by the Philippine police.

Topping the agenda were “discussions on law enforcement and security concerns involving the crackdown on illegal POGO activities, telecom fraud, drug-related crime and kidnapping,” Eleazar said Friday.

In addition, the conference “opened doors for training cooperation and mutual assistance, including counter-terrorism and anti-drug operations.”

POGOs, or Philippine offshore gaming operators, are set up in the country but cater to foreign customers – mainly gamblers from mainland China.

Based on records kept by the immigration bureau and labor department, more than 150,000 Chinese nationals work in the Philippines with many employed at the online casinos.

A rash of kidnappings in recent years has targeted Chinese nationals in the Philippines, including an incident in June when police rescued a casino employee and arrested five members of a Chinese crime gang and their Filipino getaway driver in a Manila suburb.

In January, police in Manila apprehended eight suspected Chinese kidnappers, including their leader, over the alleged abduction of fellow nationals identified as Lyu Long and Liu Xue Xue and who worked at a Chinese-owned electronics firm. Their supervisor paid ransom, but Lyu’s captors did not release him.

The company waited to inform police until “after receiving information that Lyu Long was killed and dumped in a deep ravine,” Maj. Gen. Joel Napoleon Coronel, chief of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, said at the time. He confirmed that investigators found Lyu’s body based on his clothing and a kidnappers’ video.

In June 2020, police killed two suspected Chinese nationals allegedly linked to a kidnap gang during a shootout in northern Pampanga province. Officials said the men were involved in abducting three other Chinese nationals who had come to the Philippines to work for an online casino.

The influx of Chinese nationals started shortly after Rodrigo Duterte was elected president in mid-2016. Duterte, who has focused on ties with Beijing, has said he would not ban online casinos here despite calls to do so, even from Beijing.

In 2019, Duterte said he told Chinese President Xi Jinping that the casinos were an economic boon for the country.

“Maybe out of courtesy I will listen to you, but I decide. I decide that we need it. Many will lose their jobs,” Duterte said when asked what he told Xi.

Since then, Duterte has said repeatedly that the Philippines owed China a debt of gratitude for sending vaccines as the world grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘China desks’

During their virtual meeting, the public safety leaders also discussed potentially establishing “China desks” in all police precincts in the country to address security concerns by Chinese nationals, Eleazar said. 

The chief’s predecessor, Archie Gamboa, had suggested establishing such desks in 2020 but dropped the plan following criticism, Philippine media reported.

Eleazar also said that Philippine police agreed to work with their counterparts in China to ensure security for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Jeoffrey Maitem in Cotabato City, Philippines, contributed to this report.


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