POLICE kidnapped and murdered a South Korean businessman, then led his wife to believe he was alive for months to extort money from her, authorities said Wednesday.
The killing is the latest in a long series of criminal acts by members of the Philippine National Police, regarded as one of the nation’s most corrupt institutions, and has fueled concerns about its role enforcing President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly war on drugs.
The man disappeared from his home in the northern city of Angeles in October last year, and his wife initially paid a ransom of P5 million, PNP spokesman Dionardo Carlos said.
However, the man was strangled to death and burned to ashes in a crematorium on the day he was abducted, the South Korean foreign ministry said, citing a Philippine government report.
The crematorium was owned by a former police officer, the foreign ministry said.
The South Korean government identified the man only by his surname of Jee and said he was in his 50s. Reports said he was a businessman who had been working in the Philippines since 2008 and had been working for a manpower company.
South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se demanded answers after receiving a phone call from Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay to inform him of the murder.
“Minister Yun, expressing grave shock over the implication of Philippine police officers in the case, asked that the Philippine government get to the bottom of the case and bring those responsible to justice,” a foreign ministry spokesman said.
Ricky Sta. Isabel, one of the officers accused of going to Jee’s house and abducting him, surrendered this week, Carlos said.
He said another two officers who went with him to the house were under investigation.
Carlos said a retired police officer was also believed to be involved but had fled to Canada.
All three accused officers were from the Anti-Illegal Drugs Group based at PNP headquarters, Carlos said.
He said that Sta. Isabel and the other two officers went to Jee’s house on the pretext of a drug raid.
The abductors demanded from Jee’s wife a ransom of P8 million on Oct. 30, 12 days after he was killed, according to newspaper reports.
She paid P5 million, but the kidnappers then demanded another P4.5 million and continued to say he was alive.
The case has drawn criticism from some lawmakers and media as an example of corrupt policemen expanding their illegal activities after being given freedoms by Duterte to prosecute his war on drugs.
Duterte has encouraged police to kill drug traffickers and addicts, and vowed to shield them from prosecution.
Nearly 6,000 people have died in Duterte’s drug war since he took office in the middle of last year.
Carlos insisted the abduction of Jee was not related to Duterte’s drug war, saying the problem of kidnappings for ransom by corrupt police had existed for a long time.
“It turned out it was an old modus operandi where bad cops claim there is a drug raid and turn it into a kidnap for ransom,” Carlos said.
The police force was among the most corrupt national agencies, according to a 2015 report from the Office of the Ombudsman.
A 2013 survey by anti-graft watchdog Transparency International also found that the police force was perceived by Filipinos to be the country’s most corrupt institution.
The National Bureau of Investigation confirmed reports that kidnap victim Jee Ick Joo was dead.
NBI agents located on Tuesday the funeral home in Caloocan City where he was taken after he was abducted in Angeles City on Oct. 18.
Police are hunting Gerardo Santiago, barangay chairman and a retired policeman who owns Gream Funeral Parlor in Bagbaguin, Caloocan City, where Jee was taken and cremated.
NBI Task Force Against Illegal Drugs chief Roel Bolivar said the employees of the funeral home identified Jee when they were shown a photo of the businessman.
At a press conference last week, Choi Kyung Jin, Jee’s wife said eight armed men took her husband and some of their personal belongings from their home.
The couple’s house help, Marissa Dawis, was also abducted. She was released the following day and is now the main witness in the case.
Choi said the kidnappers demanded P8 million, which was later reduced to P5 million following negotiations.
Accompanied by her nephew, Choi said she delivered the ransom money at a fastfood restaurant in Angeles City on Oct. 31, but her husband was not released. The kidnappers offered no proof of life when she gave them the money, she said.
When the kidnappers asked for P4.5 million more, Choi decided to go to the police.
Senator Panfilo Lacson on Wednesday sought a congressional investigation into the “tokhang for ransom” operations of rogue police officers who used the war on drugs as a cover for their extortion activities.
His resolution calls for the committee on public order and illegal drugs, which he heads, to investigate the kidnap-extortion racket.
The resolution specifically cited Jee’s case as well as another case involving Lacson’s friend, a Chinese-Filipino businessman who was also victimized by the same racket last year. He was freed after paying the ransom, however.
The suspects were later arrested, Lacson said. With Macon Ramos-Araneta, AFP