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Security Issues in the Philippines


Political leaders in the Philippines would like to believe that kidnapping is about to become a thing of the past. Recent police statements have focused on their "success" in neutralizing five of the twenty-one known kidnap-for-ransom gangs operating in the country. Yet the facts suggest otherwise showing that sadly the Philippines is still the kidnap capital of Asia. Indeed the BBC has

dubbed the Philippines as "the kidnapping capital of the world".

Groups involved in the kidnapping trade are of concern because their continued existence belies claims that peace and order - a stated high priority of the Arroyo Administration - is being restored to the country. This of itself discourages foreign investors from coming here. When the foreigners themselves become the targets of kidnappers, a further dimension is added to an already complex problem.

Yet far from being under control, there is evidence that suggests the problem may be compounding. Government officials have recently reported that kidnap gangs from other Asian countries are moving into the Philippines to take advantage of the situation. These groups target only their own countrymen and in one recent case are suspected of arriving in the country and carrying out their first kidnapping on the same day.

The Philippines Government has of late had some success dealing with the Abu Sayyaf and a previously unreported hostage held by that group was released only this past week after it was discovered that he was unable to raise any significant ransom. Instead a small fee was paid for his release

Add to this scenario the realization that in spite of the fact that the US Government has offered rewards of up to five million USD for the capture of three suspects involved in the previous kidnapping of US missionaries and citizens, the suspects are still at large and (presumably) protected by the local populace - and you have an idea of why government and business needs to take a serious look at the kidnapping problem and its root cause.

The threat is nationwide but Metro Manila and Mindanao are the two areas that have seen the greatest number of kidnapping cases. The amounts paid for the release of hostages varies widely. The "tried and tested formula" can be from upwards of 100 million pesos down to a few thousand pesos extracted from foreigners held hostage for the use of their ATM cards.

One of the major causes of the kidnapping crisis is the abject poverty of such a large section of the Filipino population and the prevalence of guns within the community. Looking beyond this, especially in the South is the issue of land - who owns it and who occupies it.

There is, sadly, no shortage of desperate people willing to join kidnapping groups. A number of these groups are organized on the basis of provincial origin or kinship group. This keeps them tighter knit and helps them communicate privately. Throw into this equation the historical problems of Mindanao and you have yet another dimension to add to the crisis.

Muslim Millitants

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was probably the most violent of the Islamic anti-government groups before the Abu Sayyaf took this claim. The MILF is believed to have been behind the recent mall bombings in Manila, and

also claimed responsibility for bombing the Philippine Embassy in Jakarta. The MILF has reached a negotiated settlement with the Philippines government, but still maintain relationships with a number of other kidnap groups

and even the Abu Sayyaf.

The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) has generally held to a more moderate stance and negotiated a settlement with the Ramos administration (1996) which led to the creation of the ARMM (Autonomous Regions of Muslim Mindanao). Although this agreement is viewed by many as a political mess, Nur Misuari, who ran the MNLF, was rewarded by being elected governor of

the ARMM. However in spite of being given political respectability, he was believed to be playing both sides and never fully stopped his involvement with the more disruptive groups. He was rumored to have given (or approved) logistical support to the Abu Sayyaf for abducting their hostages from Palawan. Subsequently he fell out with the Philippines government and the

Malaysian authorities apprehended him fleeing to Malaysia. He is back in the Philippines under arrest in Laguna but some of his supporters are believed to remain actively involved with kidnappings gangs


Analysis so far reveals a broad consensus in government,

nongovernmental, and international circles that corruption in the public and private

sectors in the Philippines is pervasive and deep-rooted, touching even the judiciary and the media A survey was conducted by organizations to the people regarding corruption of their government.The survey revealed that nearly two thirds of the respondents thought there was corruption in government—38 percent said "a great deal," 34 percent said "some." A similar survey for 1999 has been done but the results are not yet available. Another recent measure of prevalence of corruption in the Philippines is the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), published by Transparency International. CPIs were calculated for 99 countries by conducting a poll. For the Philippines, the CPI was calculated as a composite index of 12 different polls and surveys. On an scale of 1 (high perception of corruption) to 10 (negligible perception), the CPI for the Philippines was 3.6 in 1999. Out of the 99 countries rated, the Philippines was perceived as the fifty-fifth least corrupt.