'K' is for kidnapping
There are several zones of armed conflict and high crime rates in the world, and kidnapping for ransom is not unique to the Philippines. So the government is disputing the Philippines’ inclusion in a list of 35 countries where there is a high risk of being kidnapped or taken hostage.
The list of countries labeled “K” was drawn up by the US State Department as part of travel advisories given to its citizens. It’s bad news for the Philippine travel industry, which must compete with safer destinations in the region for visitors.
Apart from protesting the ranking, however, the report must spur the government to do more in ensuring the safety not just of foreign visitors but the general public.
Kidnapping for ransom remains a lucrative business in the conflict zones of Mindanao. There are still several foreign captives held by the Abu Sayyaf in the hinterlands of Sulu. There is widespread speculation that hostages who have been rescued or managed to escape did so after the payment of ransom or its cheaper euphemism, “board and lodging fee.”
The Abu Sayyaf and its lairs continue to be the repositories of captives seized from Malaysia. Within Southeast Asia, kidnapping for ransom has been rampant mainly in the pirate-infested shared waters of the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.
In Metro Manila and other urban centers, kidnapping for ransom remains a problem, with even certain foreign groups engaging in the illegal activity and targeting their own compatriots. The problem in the National Capital Region has been reduced compared to the height of the kidnapping spree targeting mostly Chinese Filipinos in the 1990s. But Metro Manila still accounted for many of the 38 kidnapping cases recorded in Luzon last year. Mindanao accounted for 55 percent of the cases. One case was reported in the Visayas.
In the first four months of this year, 10 ransom kidnapping cases have been recorded nationwide by the police. There are unconfirmed reports that several recent cases involved revenue district officers.
The kidnapping scourge is real. But the fact that the kidnapping spree in the 1990s was stopped shows that the problem is not intractable. With political will, efficient law enforcement, and the public trust and cooperation that are indispensable in fighting crime, kidnapping can be curbed. This is the best assurance that the Philippines will stay out of any list of countries where there is a high risk of being kidnapped for ransom.