A Korean businessman went missing on October 18, 2016 along with his domestic helper. The wife of the former testified that armed men had grabbed the two victims from the family home in Angeles City, Pampanga.
Jee Ick-Joo’s name was then thrust into the spotlight, was it a syndicate group who abducted him or something worse?
The suspicion fell on the supposed law enforcement body of the country, members of the Philippine National Police. An investigation conducted by the PNP’s Anti-Kidnapping Group (AKG) yielded the name of an active member of their force.
Jee’s wife, Kyunghin Choi, testified that the kidnappers had demanded ransom money from her for the release of her husband. She had forked out Php5 million before being demanded another Php4.5 million, by that time she sought help from authorities.
Investigators revealed the name of the corrupt cop who led the kidnapping and extortion to be SPO3 Ricky Sta. Isabel, an active-duty policeman for two decades and is an officer of the PNP Anti-Illegal Drugs Group.
The motive of the abduction was revealed to be related to President Duterte’s war on drugs, as the Korean businessman was accused of being a drug lord.
The whereabouts of SPO3 Sta. Isabel was unknown initially, with the chief of the PNP himself, Ronald dela Rosa calling for a “manhunt” for the suspect. Duterte’s “enforcer” even issued expletive statements, calling for the death of the alleged crooked cop.
The case then took a bizarre turn when the PNP declared they had custody of the suspect who was apparently hiding in Camp Crame – the headquarters of the police force – the entire time he was supposedly “missing”.
The suspicious circumstances of the investigation and the so-called “manhunt” led critics to believe the cop was being protected by higher-ups in the PNP. It took a public outcry in order to produce the names of the suspects, and it took intervention from the PNP chief himself to produce the suspect.
Crooked cops being involved in criminal activity is nothing new, the PNP has a reputation for having widespread corruption among its ranks. The llegal detention of foreigners, who are feeble and are intimidated being in an alien environment to them, is one modus which crooked cops have a field day with.
What is different this time around is the President’s “Drug War”, where the aggressive nature of anti-narcotics operations often expose innocent people to police corruption. The callous rhetoric of the President, giving permission to law enforcement officers to pursue drug suspects by any means, provides justification for corrupt cops.
In November, a Singaporean national filed a lawsuit against a high-ranking Makati City Police Department official. Wee Siong Lai, a businessman, claimed that Makati City PNP intelligence head Chief Inspector Sherwin Cantapay started a drug-related investigation on him and demanded Php750,000 to end the probe.
That same figure was found out to have been transferred to a certain, “Colonel Kabigting”, later found out to be retired Senior Superintendent Kabigting who allegedly is in connivance with Cantapay.
President Duterte initially called for the axing of five policemen, the two officers included, over their involvement in the crime. However, PNP chief dela Rosa ordered their transfer instead to new posts in Sulu.
In May that same year, a retired U.S. serviceman residing in Angeles City, Pampanga reported that he was being extorted by a group of policemen accusing him of peddling illegal drugs.
Angelito Jose, a retired U.S. Air Force personnel, was arrested on April 1st for illegal drugs, Jose said the charges were bogus. The foreign national later admitted to officials that he gave $2,000 to Inspector Michael Rey Bernardo, and three other policemen to make the charges and risk of being imprisoned go away.
The extortion would continue, however, with Jose’s sisters having forked out an extra Php50,000 to appease the crooked cops. Despite the evidence, the policemen were only transferred to new assignments in Nueva Ecija.
The targeting of foreigners projects a negative image for potential investors, scaring them off into thinking they could be the next victim. The policy of treating crooked cops who concoct such modus lightly, by reassigning them rather than charging them for criminal offences, signals that such habits are condoned.
In effect, this gives off the image that Duterte’s drug war is selective – prying on the vulnerable as opposed to the powerful elite drug lords who are the true culprits in the proliferation of narcotics in the country. If “The Punisher” is serious about his crusade, he needs to recognize who the real enemies are.