In October 2016 a Korean businessman, Mr Jee Ick-Joo, was kidnapped from his home in the Philippines by police officers and taken to Philippine National Police Headquarters in Manila. This facility is known as Camp Crame (refer picture). On the same day he was strangled; his body was taken to a funeral parlour; the body was unceremoniously cremated; the ashes were guiltily flushed down a toilet; and after the murder his wife was approached to pay a ransom for his release; the wife handed over PHP 5 million.
As it emerges, the alleged kidnappers/murderers were officers of the Philippines National Police. They used the Government’s anti-drug campaign as a cover for their kidnap-for-ransom plot. They were identified and now face prosecution.
Some suggestions were made that this murder involved other Koreans. However no evidence in the public domain supports this.
Still, the concept that other Koreans might be involved led to comments by some officials that there was a Korean ‘Mafia’ operating in the Philippines and centered on Cebu City.
A number of public statements then addressed the Cebu City ‘Korean Mafia’, and the consensus of opinion in the public domain is as follows. A decade ago certain Korean undesirables found Cebu City a pleasant place and a group of criminal Koreans coalesced there. In 2009 a Korean family was found dead in a burnt-out vehicle on Mactan Island and the responsibility for this death was sheeted home to ‘Korean Mafia’ figures in Cebu. That death appears to have been the result of a dispute over a restaurant. And there were allegations of some drugs dealing. Given the possibility that Korean undesirables may have formed a gang in Cebu City, Korea sent an officer to Cebu City, and he worked with local authorities to investigate the possibility of a ‘Korean Mafia’, but little more was head of this. Possibly the Korean undesirables drifted back to Korea or went into retirement in the Philippines. Since that period there has been no criminal activity that has been attributed to a ‘Korean Mafia’ in the Philippines. Korean authorities have concluded that there is no ‘Mafia’ but maybe just a few Korean criminals fleeing from Korean justice.
Korea is a substantial and valued source of tourists for the Philippines. Over one million Koreans visit the Philippines annually, with the majority of these visiting Cebu.
And many Koreans live in the Philippines: some 89,000 nationally. Cebu has some 25,000 Korean residents, with many living in enclave-style condominiums and centered on schools teaching Koreans to speak and write English; and many others on Korean pensions have retired to Cebu.
The Philippines tourism industry is quite small compared to some South-East Asian tourism destinations: Malaysia receives 28 million per year; Thailand receives 25 million per year; Indonesia (mainly Bali) 10 million per year; Vietnam receives 8 million per year. However the Philippines receives only 5 million per year.
And yet the Philippines has particular advantages: English is spoken widely. Cultural and religious tolerance can shrug at a little excessive exuberance from tourists. Filipinos are welcoming and easy-going. The climate is attractive all year, and the Philippines consists of 7,000 islands with a wide range of holiday experiences on offer.
A speedy, decisive and tough resolution to the murder of Mr Jee Ick-Joo would assist in avoiding damage to the influx of Korean tourists. As a starting point the term being used for the police murderers ? ‘scalawags’ - may have lost something in the translation, but in English it is a cute and playful description. It could usefully be changed to a term which recognizes the full brutality of the murder of Mr Jee Ick-Joo. And an apparent divergence in the case between the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation will need to be reconciled in order for a winnable case to proceed.
In the meantime, Cebu City hosts large numbers of smiling and relaxed young Korean tourists. Philippines authorities will be trying to keep them smiling and relaxed.
Mike B. Bradshaw has been an officer of the Treasury, Canberra, an investment banker, and a consultant in Europe, the USA and Asia. He now works on project financing.
(02) 8876 1870