Panelo falsely claims Makati kidnapping an 'isolated incident'

MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang downplayed the kidnapping of a Chinese woman in Makati, saying it's nothing but an "isolated incident."

"I think that particular incident is isolated. I have not heard of any kidnapping cases whether reported by the media or by word of mouth except for that video that went viral," said Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo on Tuesday, December 10, during a Palace news briefing.

Asked for a Palace response to the incident, Panelo advised the public to just be more vigilant when they're out in the streets.

"They should always be alert whenever they are out and be conscious around them. If they see any suspicious men or women lurking around, they should report it immediately to the police authorities," said President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman.

Apart from Panelo, Makati Mayor Abby Binay also called the incident isolated.

"While this is an isolated incident, we appeal to all Makatizens to take active part in keeping our homes, streets, and communities safe for us and our children," she said in a statement.

Senator Ronald dela Rosa, Duterte's first police chief, also downplayed the incident, saying that the woman's kidnapper was likely Chinese as well.

"Petty crime naman ang kidnapping na 'yan, sila-sila lang 'yan. That is kidnapping pero alam naman natin ang kinikidnap, sila-sila lang," he said.

(That kidnapping case is just a petty crime because it's just them involved. It's kidnapping but we know that they're just kidnapping each other.)

Not isolated

But Panelo is wrong. Data from the Philippine National Police (PNP)'s Anti-Kidnapping Group shows there have been several kidnapping cases during the Duterte administration.

In fact, only two months ago, the police presented members of a kidnapping ring suspected of kidnapping two Chinese nationals in Taguig City, another financial district right beside Makati. The victims were identified as former employees of a POGO firm, just like the victim in the recent incident.

In August, a similar incident involved 5 men who also kidnapped a fellow-Chinese.

Risk analysis firm PSA Philippines Consultancy said that in 2019, there have been least 21 incidents of Chinese nationals being abducted in relation to gambling debts. This was 5 times the statistics in 2018 (4 incidents) and 2017 (4 incidents).

TARGETING CHINESE. The PNP Anti-Kidnapping Group presents to media at Camp Crame the 5 Chinese and 3 Filipinos suspected of kidnapping fellow-Chinese. File photo by Jire Carreon/Rappler

TARGETING CHINESE. The PNP Anti-Kidnapping Group presents to media at Camp Crame the 5 Chinese and 3 Filipinos suspected of kidnapping fellow-Chinese.

File photo by Jire Carreon/Rappler

In 2018, kidnapping cases even rose by 3%, with 69 Filipinos and foreigners kidnapped then, compared to 67 the year before.

While most of these cases happened in Sulu in Mindanao, 10 occurred in Metro Manila – 6 incidents in Pasay City, and 4 in Manila, the capital.

The woman kidnapped in Makati was a Chinese who worked for a Philippine offshore gaming operations (POGO) firm, according to police.

Earlier this year, the PNP had already said there was a worrisome pattern in the spate of kidnappings of Chinese.

In 2017, almost all of the 57 victims of casino-related kidnapping were Chinese. Law enforcers attributed this to the rise of POGOs. So prevalent were Chinese kidnapping victims that the PNP even planned to send some of their anti-kidnapping operatives to Chinese language schools, according to the Philippine News Agency.

Why does this matter? President Duterte's biggest campaign promise was to make Philippine streets safer. But incidents like the Makati kidnapping have driven critics to ask how effective the government's anti-crime campaign has been, more than halfway into Duterte's term. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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