MANILA, Philippines – The chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) on Thursday, January 19, said South Korean businessman Jee Ick Joo was killed inside the police headquarters, Camp Crame, hours after he was abducted from his home in Angeles City.
"Very angry [and] very offended" was how Director General Ronald dela Rosa described his reaction to the latest development in the case of Jee, who was kidnapped by several men – including police – from his home on October 18, 2016.
Jee's abduction grabbed headlines recently after a news report tagged it as a case of "TokHang for ransom." The cops who kidnapped the Korean apparently used the ongoing war on drugs as a cover, and used a fake arrest warrant to boot.
Jee's wife said her husband's abductors asked for P5 million in ransom – which she paid – weeks after he went missing. They then asked for another P4.5 million.
But it turns out, Jee was long dead by the time his kidnappers asked for the ransom money.
Jee had apparently been strangled to death the same day he was kidnapped. He was then brought to a crematorium in Caloocan City.
Dela Rosa was in Camp Crame, fresh from a days-long trip to Thailand, when Jee was kidnapped and brought to the PNP headquarters.
The Anti-Illegal Drugs Group (AIDG) compound is just steps away from the White House, Dela Rosa's official residence. At least one of the cops allegedly involved in the kidnapping, Ricky Sta Isabel, was once assigned to the AIDG.
At least 8 suspects are being eyed by investigators – at least 3 of them active policemen. Another suspect, a retired cop turned barangay official, was the one who apparently owned the crematorium. He has since fled to Canada.
'War on drugs under control'
News of Jee's kidnapping – and cops' subsequent involvement – comes as Philippine police hit the 7th month of a popular but controversial war on drugs. With more than 6,700 deaths linked to the anti-drug campaign – 2,250 of them in police operations and the rest vigilante-style killings – cops have long been under fire.
Dela Rosa and other government officials have fiercely denied that police carry out summary executions.
But Jee's gruesome case has made critics hit the apparent blatant abuse of power and question whether the war on drugs is still under control.
Dela Rosa insists that it is.
"That was not part of the drug war. The term 'TokHang for ransom,' they're just using that to ruin the war on drugs. TokHang is very, very effective and it has led to the surrender and accounting of 1.3 million drug personalities," he said.
Under the "TokHang" operation, cops go from door-to-door, convincing drug users and pushers to surrender. Police claim more than one million people have "surrendered" as a result of the operation, despite the lack of arrest warrants.
Human Rights Watch's Asia Division Deputy Director Phelim Kine, in a statement released on Thursday, said Jee's death is "an ominous indicator of the breakdown of rule of law under President Rodrigo Duterte."
Dela Rosa belittled this observation.
"Is it just now under President Duterte that a Korean died in the country? For all you know, let's be honest, there was more crime before the President came. The police who are part of syndicates but we didn't know because the internal cleansing of police was not that intense. No offense to the past PNP chiefs. I don't mean to offend but they could not be strong because they were not backed up by their president," said the PNP chief in a mix of English and Filipino.
A war on drugs was among President Rodrigo Duterte's key campaign promises during the 2016 elections. Duterte has also said in the past that he will defend cops as long as they're working in the name of the drug war. But the President drew flak after he defended several police officers accused of murdering a mayor with links to illegal drugs.
Asked how Duterte himself reacted to Jee's case and if he had any specific instructions, Dela Rosa said: "Amin na lang. Galit si Presidente (That's between the two of us. The President is angry)." – Rappler.com