Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Written for The Diplomat

The Korean embassy has issued a statement expressing alarm over the reported spike in crimes victimizing Korean tourists and businessmen residing in the Philippines.

It cited the killing of a Korean businessman last July and the abduction and killing of a Korean college student in Manila last March as examples of “brutal and senseless crimes that rattled” the Korean community in the Philippines.

The embassy said there are already nine cases of crime-related deaths of Korean citizens in the country this year. Last year, 12 Koreans were reportedly shot or stabbed to death in the country, but a local Korean newspaper reported that no suspects have been taken into custody.

This is not the first time the Korean government has raised the issue of rising crime in the Philippines. Last May, First Vice Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yong asked for the Philippine government’s cooperation in protecting the security of Koreans during a policy consultation held in Manila. This message was reiterated by Korean Ambassador Hyuk Lee last July. “The escalation in the number of killings is very disturbing… I just hope that the peace and order situation will improve, especially for the benefit of Koreans who visit the Philippines.”

There were 1.17 million Koreans who visited the Philippines last year. Korean tourists accounted for about 25 percent of all foreign visitors to the country. About 88,000 are already residing in various parts of the Philippines.

The embassy said it has already reached out to various national agencies such as the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the Philippine National Police, as well as the Office of the President “in the hopes that an intensified effort on the part of the Philippine government to curb criminality will lead to a safer environment for Korean nationals.”

It proposed various improvements in security measures, like preventing motor vehicles, particularly taxi cabs, from being used as a means to commit crimes, or protection from being targeted for kidnapping or “car-napping” by organized criminal syndicates.

In response, the police downplayed the concern that Koreans are being targeted by criminal syndicates and insisted that the country is still a safe destination for Koreans. Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Herminio B. Coloma Jr. assured the Korean community that the problem is already being addressed.

“We’re taking the matter seriously and this is given priority attention by the police and law enforcement agencies. Part of the government’s duty is to ensure the safety of all nationals residing in the country, and we want to assure the Korean embassy that this is being given highest priority by the Philippine government,” he said in a statement sent to a local newspaper.

But there are also suggestions that some of the cases involved crimes instigated by Korean gang members. This was raised by Professor Kim Dong-yeob from the Busan University of Foreign Studies: “It is highly possible that there are Koreans behind these crimes. Many Koreans flying to the Philippines have a reason to flee Korea. Many are gang members escaping law enforcement. What they end up doing is paying people to swindle money from Korean businessmen, students and tourists.”

Whatever the cause of these crimes, the embassy was right to point out that Korean investors might “avoid the Philippines and seek safer places for doing business.”

And it looks like the fallout is already happening. Central Bank data showed decreasing foreign direct investment from South Korea since last year. Korean investments reached only $440,000 as of May this year, compared to $1.78 million in the same five months last year, representing a 75 percent drop.

This should hopefully compel the police and other concerned agencies to act faster and decisively to reduce crime in the country. A safer Philippines would benefit both tourists and especially local citizens, who need to feel secure in their own country.

Grisly Murders Stoke Political Controversies in Thailand and Philippines

Written for The Diplomat

The murder of two young British tourists in southern Thailand and the killing of a Filipina transgender person in the Philippines, allegedly by a American soldier, have created a political mess for both countries. The governments of Thailand and the Philippines are under pressure to quickly solve the cases, which could both affect their bilateral relations with the United Kingdom and United States.

The prime suspect in the killing of Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude, whose lifeless body was found in a motel near a former American military base in the Philippines, is U.S. Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton. Laude’s death, allegedly at the hands of an American soldier, has revived the clamor to review existing military agreements that allow U.S. troops to visit and build temporary facilities in the Philippines. Pemberton’s unit is briefly stationed in the country to participate in military war games.

The Philippines used to host two American bases in Clark and Olongapo, but these were removed after the Senate rejected the bases treaty in 1991. U.S. troops were able return to the Philippines through the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which was ratified in 1999. In April this year the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) was signed during Obama’s visit to the Philippines. It legalizes the building of semi-permanent U.S. military facilities in various parts of the country.

Negotiations for the EDCA implementation were about to start when the Laude murder hit the news. Activist groups immediately called for the rejection of the EDCA, VFA, and other purportedly one-sided agreements that trump Philippine sovereignty. They argued that the inability of the Philippine government to gain full custody over Pemberton is a concrete example of the unfair provisions in the signed military agreements. Senator Miriam Santiago also renewed her demand for the scrapping of the VFA.

Another debate ignited by the Laude case is the discrimination or marginalization suffered by the LGBT community in the country. Laude has become a symbol for LGBT groups demanding gender equality, protection, and fair treatment.

Meanwhile, in Thailand, the deaths of British backpackers Hannah Witheridge and David Miller in Koh Tao island beach resort has greatly embarrassed the military-backed government. The police is accused of bungling the investigation after failing to apprehend suspects and file appropriate charges in the court.

They eventually presented some Burmese migrant workers who “confessed” to committing the crime. But the suspects have now recanted and claimed that they were tortured into producing a false confession.

It didn’t help that the prime minister advised foreign tourists not to wear bikinis in order to be safe, implying that victims of crimes are to be blamed for their ordeal. He has since apologized for making this remark on national TV and insisted that he was only thinking of the safety of visitors.

The murder case in a popular destination has badly affected the tourism sector, which has yet to bounce back from the setback it received when the Thai military grabbed power in a coup. The political instability created by the coup and the unsolved murder case involving British tourists will make it all the harder for Thailand to entice tourists to return.

In the Philippines, a foreigner is accused of committing murder; while in Thailand, two foreigners were allegedly murdered by migrant workers. In both cases, the crime of murder has produced political problems with national and international repercussions. The local population are shocked, enraged, and closely monitoring the two cases. The international community, meanwhile, is observing how the respective justice systems handle the cases. Ultimately, it is the governments of Thailand and the Philippines that are under trial.

2 Responses to “Koreans Alarmed by Rising Crime in the Philippines”

  1. There’s little doubt the American will be found guilty and sentenced. Of more concern to the rest of the world is that Filipinos have killed foreigners and walked free. Impugnity leads to corruption.

    David Taylor

  2. Here’s a link to the above case

    …then there’s the resident of the UK, being held to ransom by authorities, Eanna O’Cochlin

    And let’s not forget the institutional murder of Filipinos themselves by other Filipinos. When will The Philippines clean up its act?

    David Taylor

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