By Norman P. Aquino Special Reports Editor
and Arjay L. Balinbin Reporter
WANG HONG, 29, was hooked on gambling.
It came to a point that he had to borrow money from loan sharks — a couple of Chinese nationals like himself — so he could continue betting while at the Solaire Resort and Casino, the tallest hotel in the Manila Bay area near the Philippine capital.
Like most gamblers, Mr. Wang was mired in debt after his creditors demanded a 15% commission from his casino winnings, according to police. His creditors abducted him on Dec. 4 after he failed to pay P2 million.
The Anti-Kidnapping Group of the Philippine National Police rescued Mr. Wang the following week after his friend reported his abduction.
“Part of the kidnappers’ modus operandi is they take videos of their victims and send these to the latter’s relatives in China,” according to Lieutenant Colonel Jowel N. Saliba, spokesman of the police’s Anti-Kidnapping Group.
“Once ransom is paid, they release their victims at the airport in Manila so they can go straight home and will never have to complain to Philippine authorities,” he said by telephone.
Kidnapping cases involving Chinese nationals is just one of several crimes that President Rodrigo R. Duterte has had to face since his Beijing-friendly foreign policy started attracting tourists and workers from the mainland.
Since becoming president in 2016, the tough-talking Philippine leader has sought closer investment and trade ties with its Asian neighbor, avoiding being confrontational about islets that China claims in the South China Sea.
The influx of Chinese nationals especially in Manila, the capital, is evident especially after the Philippines opened its doors to so-called online gaming operators, a billion-peso industry that is mostly Chinese-run and caters to its own nationals.
These Philippine online gaming operators, or POGOs, have hired more than 400,000 workers, many of them from mainland China, amid the Chinese government’s crackdown on gambling.
Mr. Duterte has rejected Beijing’s call to ban online gaming, which he sees as a major source of tax revenue — the proverbial Golden Goose that lays the golden eggs.
But his government can’t seem to escape some rotten ones, with Chinese crime syndicates having capitalized on Manila’s relaxed visa policy.
Police have documented 36 casino-related kidnappings from January to November, more than double the 16 cases reported in 2018, Mr. Saliba said.
“They’re just too many,” he said, referring to Chinese nationals in the Philippines.
“The usual kidnap-for-ransom cases disappeared this year. These were replaced by casino- and POGO-related kidnapping cases that have become a trend.”
The police unit has arrested 30 Chinese suspects involved in the kidnapping of nine POGO employees — all of them Chinese — this year.
One such case involved Ming Xuangbo, a 27-year-old Chinese who worked as a personnel assistant at Ekxinimum, Inc., an online gaming company at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone in Zambales province north of Manila.
Police arrested seven Chinese co-workers of the victim for kidnapping. The suspects allegedly abducted Ms. Ming on Nov. 1 after she decided to leave the company and failed to pay 19,000 renminbi (about P138,000).
“The government should step up and check the rising incidence of criminality involving Chinese nationals,” Dante L. Jimenez, who heads the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission, said by telephone.
“We should check their entry, starting at the Immigration bureau,” added Mr. Jimenez, who is also the founder of a citizen’s group against crime.
Apart from kidnappings, Philippine police have had to grapple with other serious crimes involving the Chinese, including prostitution and fraud.
Government agents arrested 15 Chinese pimps and rescued 17 Chinese women in separate raids in Las Piñas City this month, according to the National Bureau of Investigation.
In September, Immigration agents raided the office of an online gaming operator in the Ortigas business district in Pasig City, and arrested 277 illegal workers, many of whom were Chinese nationals accused of fraud. Days later, 324 undocumented Chinese workers were arrested in Palawan province for alleged cybercrimes.
“We should condemn these things and discuss with China how to prevent them from happening,” George T. Siy, who heads the trade and industry committee of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Inc., said in a telephone interview.
“We did everything else to balance it out with the negatives and positives of the situation. The country is getting a lot of income — more than P100 billion a year from POGOs — and there are also these crimes.”