MANILA - The Philippine National Police (PNP) on Thursday said it would double its efforts against casino-related kidnappings perpetrated by Chinese loan shark syndicates.
PNP Anti-Kidnapping Group (AKG) spokesperson Police Lt. Col. Elmer Cereno said the surge of hotel and casino operations in the Philippines meant increased opportunities for loan sharks to thrive in the country.
Cereno said the offshore gaming industry in the country has seen exponential growth, currently employing some 250,000 Chinese nationals. A total of 56 POGOs (Philippine offshore gaming operators) are licensed to operate, while 30 are operating illegally.
The PNP-AKG said that from 2017, it has recorded 52 casino-related kidnappings of Chinese nationals committed by their fellow Chinese believed to be members of loan shark syndicates.
Police have observed two methods of these syndicates, Cereno said.
First, they would entice players in China to come to the Philippines through junkets, offer free board, lodging and tours, and then even lend gambling capital.
"Gagawa ito ng promissory note na kapag nanalo siya magkakaroon ng 20 percent to 30 percent interest doon sa mapapanalunan niya," Cereno said.
(The player will write a promissory note that says if he wins, there will be a 20 percent to 30 percent interest on his winnings.)
But if the gambler loses, he will be detained. The syndicate will then demand ransom from the player's family that is twice what he had borrowed. The amount is deposited in China, Cereno said.
"Karaniwan pinapahirapan, ibi-video then ipapadala sa magulang niya o relative niya sa China, then magpapadala ng ransom money na times 2 na," he said.
(Usually, the player is tortured, this will be captured on video and sent to parents or relatives in China, then they will send ransom money that is times 2.)
The second modus operandi is that loan sharks invite wealthy Chinese businessmen to come to the Philippines to invest. But upon arrival in the Philippines, they are kidnapped.
"Mas malaki ang ransom na hinihingi nila dahil alam nilang ang taong ito na galing sa China ay na-profile na nilang may kaya. Mga negosyante na kapag nagbayad na, ihahatid nila ulit sa airport para pabalikin."
(They demand big ransom because they have profiled them and know they are wealthy. They are businessmen who upon payment, they are brought to the airport then sent back [to China].)
Last July, three Chinese businessmen were reportedly victimized through the second method.
“Sa dalawang Chinese, nakakuha sila ng P170 million. 'Yung isa nakuha sa KTV (karaoke television). Inimbita nila tapos, pinasyal sa KTV,” Cereno said.
(For two of the Chinese, they got [total ransom of] P170 million. One was in a KTV. They invited [the victim] here then brought to a KTV bar.)
The police official said loan sharks also work with Filipinos in their illicit operations.
Last July, the AKG raided safehouses in Batangas and Las Piñas used by the Filipino suspects.
Last May, a Chinese national was taken by force while inside a KTV bar. The Filipino suspects pretended to be law enforcers and handed the victim a fake arrest warrant.
Cereno said the AKG stepped up coordination with the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) and casino operators. AKG police assistance desks in casinos have also been set up, Cereno said.
He said the AKG is also set to establish satellite offices in casinos.
"Ipapakalat na rin natin sa mga casino establishment ang mga picture ng wanted na huli natin, 'yung iba na-deport. Then 'yung awareness, linggo-linggo nagbibigay tayo ng mga leaflets para hindi mabiktima ng casino loan shark syndicates,” Cereno said.
(We will distribute in casinos photos of wanted persons we have arrested and deported. Then in terms of awareness, we are distributing leaflets every week warning against casino loan shark syndicates.)
The AKG will also assign intelligence operatives in casinos, and nearby condominiums and subdivisions known to be used as safe houses by Chinese syndicates.
Cereno said casinos have been very cooperative so far, providing CCTV footage to assist in the investigation of cases and details about the movement of victims.
The police official reminded condominium unit owners to remain vigilant and report suspicious activities to authorities. He said those rescued were held in exclusive condos and subdivisions.
The AKG said some Chinese kidnappers use signal jammers while inside hotels and condominiums, causing other residents to complain they have weak internet connection or none at all.
Cereno admitted it is often difficult to resolve kidnapping cases especially when Chinese nationals are involved.
He said police would often get reports from the Chinese consul. He also cited the language barrier, with the police often needing the help of an interpreter in investigating Chinese loan shark abductions.
Cereno added that most victims, once rescued, do not file cases against their kidnappers, forcing the PNP-AKG to drop charges and undertake further investigation.