ANGELES CITY, Philippines – The number of Korean tourists and investors visiting Central Luzon dropped by half in recent months after corrupt policemen were accused of victimizing Korean nationals in the region.
"All of us Koreans feel nervous and uncomfortable. Most tourists and investors feel nervous and uncomfortable also. There is a 50% decrease in tourists and investors here," said Kim Ki Young, President of the Korean Community Association-Central Luzon.
Kim cited the lower number of Korean visitors to the region following the still unresolved case of South Korean businessman Jee Ick Joo, who was snatched by cops from his Angeles City home, and killed in the national police headquarters in October 2016.
Korean tourist Lee Ki Hun returned to the country earlier this week to file charges against 7 Angeles cops for illegally arresting him and two others and later robbing them of P300,000.
There are an estimated 20,000 Koreans in Central Luzon. Much of the investments of Koreans in the country are concentrated in the region. Large Korean companies include Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Philippines Incorporated in Subic Freeport, where Jee used to be an executive; and semiconductor company Phoenix which had earlier announced is plan to expand its manufacturing operations in Clark, Pampanga.
There were 96 Korean companies in Clark Freeport alone, as of 2015. Add to that the more than 150 Korean establishments in Angeles City, mostly restaurants that employ thousands of locals.
Last year, a Korean delegation of businessmen visited the country for infrastructure and energy projects, which make up 40% of Korea's investments in the Philippines.
According to data from the Department of Tourism, 1.33 million Korean tourists visited the Philippines from January to November 2016, and spent P5.65 billion while in the country.
Local officials have continued to reassure the Korean community amid the scandal. The Central Luzon Police held a security meeting with officials from the Korean Association and representatives of the Korean Embassy on January 31. (READ: Central Luzon cops, Koreans to cooperate on crime prevention)
Chief Superintendent Aaron Aquino, regional police chief, told Korean officials: “Please trust us. If you don’t trust the policemen in your towns, cities or provinces, go directly here in the regional headquarters. If you don’t want to file a complaint in the city or province where you live, file it here in Camp Olivas and rest assured we will act on it."
Angeles City Mayor Edgardo Pamintuan has announced the creation of supplementary Korean desks inside city hall. There is already a Korean Desk with a designated Korean police to head it inside the Pampanga Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) office in Angeles City. (READ: Koreans and crimes in Angeles City)
Deport 'bad Koreans'
In the same security meeting last week, Aquino said one Korean living in Angeles City may be working as a "tipster" to corrupt policemen. The person, he said, is scouting who among his fellow nationals could be targeted next, and tipping rogue cops about it.
He identified the Korean as "Thomas" who, Rappler later found, to be Thomas Jung, a witness in the kidnap-for-ransom and robbery charges against 7 policemen of the Angeles City Police Station 5 filed by the tourist, Lee.
According to Aquino, Jung helped the tourists produce the money for the police by withdrawing from a nearby ATM.
The Pampanga CIDG, who is handling the case, said Jung remains a witness for now.
Korean sources said Jung is well known in the community, but when asked about him, the Korean Association in Central Luzon refused to comment, saying it was a "sensitive matter."
Kim, however, acknowledged the existence of "bad Koreans" in their local community and urged Philippine authorities to "find them and deport them."
"I heard that, [but there are bad people] in each society everywhere in the world. These people engage in criminal acts by themselves and unfortunately, we saw them again here in this case. Our wish is for your policemen and your government to find them and deport them from this country, which is my home," Kim said.