MANILA, Philippines - At least 11 “tokhang for ransom” cases committed by scalawag policemen have been reported following the government’s intensified campaign against illegal drugs, an official of an anti-crime watchdog said yesterday.
According to Teresita Ang See of the Movement for Restoration of Peace and Order (MRPO), the victims in all cases paid ransom in exchange for not facing drug-related charges, though all of them were reportedly not involved in the illegal drug trade.
“Unfortunately all of the victims paid up. Behind these are groups involving rogue Manila policemen. Others claimed agents of the National Bureau of Investigation were involved, but we do not know if they are really NBI agents. The other group specializes in procuring search warrants and instead of searching, they demand ransom from the victims,” Ang See said.
“These new victims are not Tsinoys (Chinese-Filipinos). All of them are Chinese nationals,” she added.
The 11 cases came to light following the slaying of South Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo, who sought assistance after he was taken into custody by policemen for his alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade.
The victim has yet to be found but witnesses claim he was already dead.
One of the policemen involved in Jee’s case was identified as SPO3 Ricky Sta. Isabel.
Ang See said one of the 11 cases of “tokhang for ransom” took place at a hotel in Binondo on Nov. 7, wherein the family of the Chinese national was pressured to pay P1 million.
Ang See said there were several pieces of evidence to help prosecute the policemen behind the scheme, including CCTV footage, but the victim and his family refused to cooperate with the MRPO and the authorities.
Ang See said the Chinese went with the policemen, who demanded P3 million for his release. She added that two days later on Nov. 9, a sibling of the victim arrived and paid P1 million to the policemen.
She noted the policemen claimed they conducted surveillance for several days on the Chinese and established his alleged illegal drug activities.
“It was impossible for the policemen to conduct a surveillance on the victim, who arrived on Nov. 6 and was arrested on Nov. 7,” Ang See said.
She also pointed out the informants and assets of the policemen were the same people who were with them in their illegal drug operations.
She added there were four other cases where policemen used search warrants.
“In the first incident, the policemen barged into the store of the victim by claiming the goods were fake. When the victim proved his goods were not fake, the policemen just confiscated them and threatened to file charges of possession of illegal drugs against him, saying his store was just a front for peddling illegal drugs,” she said.
Ang See said the storeowner was taken to the police station but sought help from the MRPO officials, who immediately alerted the police station, prompting the victim’s immediate release.
“He was released but the policemen demanded P100,000. So the victim just gave them P10,000 as gratis,” she said.
In another case, Ang See said policemen arrested the victim and detained him at a police station in Ongpin.
She said a CCTV video showed the policemen withdrawing money from an ATM booth using the victim’s ATM card.
Ang See cited another case in Makati City where the police employed the same method of shakedown.
Ang See stood by her information, maintaining she is willing to testify or appear before a congressional inquiry.
She, however, clarified her information was secondhand. “All I can say is hearsay, because they were merely reported to me,” she said.
Ang See called on the Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and the Chinese embassy to help in convincing their nationals to cooperate in the investigation.
She added Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who indicated intention to investigate the incidents of tokhang for ransom, is willing to conduct an executive session to protect the victims.
Ang See said she has coordinated her efforts with National Capital Regional Police Office (NCRPO) chief Director Oscar Albayalde and Manila Police District director Chief Supt. Joel Coronel, both of whom were helpful and cooperative.
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She cited the efforts of the Korean embassy to cooperate with the authorities in helping solve the case of Jee.
“The Korean national (Jee) was fortunate because the Korean embassy went out of their way to help solve the case. But in the case of kidnap extortion involving Chinese nationals, maybe the Chinese embassy should also call for help like what the Korean embassy did if it involves their nationals,” Ang See said.
The policemen detained Jee with a fake arrest warrant last October with the intent of holding him for ransom, but killed him the same day. They managed to extract a ransom payment from Jee’s family without telling them Jee was dead.
The South Korean embassy said they were shocked that their national became a victim of a heinous crime.
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“We the Korean government express our strong regrets for this unfortunate incident,” the embassy said in a statement.
“We call upon the Philippine authorities to thoroughly conduct the investigation so that the facts of the matter should be brought into light and that those responsible must be brought to justice,” the embassy said.
“We expect the Philippine authorities’ positive efforts to prevent this kind of case from happening again.”
Ang See also called on Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa to look into the cases of tokhang for ransom, which she said might affect the credibility of the anti-illegal drugs campaign of the government.
“Definitely they will abuse the blanket authority given to the police in the campaign against illegal drugs, it is easy for them to say illegal drugs,” she said.
He said one of the policemen involved in the killing of Jee has surrendered.