Philippines Kidnapping Overview 2018

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Kidnapping for ransom (KFR) in the Philippines is a persistent problem that affects most regions of the country. While it is difficult to compile cross-national statistics on phenomena like kidnapping, most analyses put the Philippines in the top 10% of the worst countries. However, the distribution of cases within these countries is very uneven. PSA records 117 incidents for 2018. In contrast, by some accounts there are thousands of cases in Mexico each year, and several hundred in unstable parts of the Middle East. Even considering the possibility that only one fourth of all cases are recorded in PSA’s methodology, this still places the Philippines somewhere behind the most dangerous countries. As such, many organizations rate the KFR risk in the Philippines as “high” but not “severe.”

Executive Summary

In 2018, PSA recorded kidnapping incidents involving 198 victims, 12 of whom (6%) were ultimately killed. The 117 total kidnapping incidents in 2018, was the same number of incidents recorded in the previous year. The total number of total victims was 198, just three more than in the preceding year. There were just slightly more victims per incident in 2018, with 1.69 victims per incident, compared to 1.67.

There was a threefold increase (12 incidents) in maritime and coastal attacks perpetrated by the Abu Sayaaf Group in 2018 from 2017. There were eight maritime and four coastal attacks in 2018. Of the eight recorded maritime incidents, only two were successful.

PSA believes this reflects that the ASG has essentially been in a capability ‘rebuilding’ phase since the events in Bohol in 2017. PSA also notes that since 2017, the ASG’s activities have been more geographically constrained – operating predominantly around the Zamboanga peninsula and in the Sulu Sea between Mindanao and Sabah (including the ASG baliwiks of Basilan, Jolo, and Tawi-Tawi) and with suspected but unconfirmed activity up to the southern tip of Palawan.

There were 32 foreign victims in 2018, up from 30 in 2017. Foreign victims made up 16% of total victims for the year. In 2017, the rate of foreigners-to-Filipino kidnapping victims was just slightly lower at 15%. By contrast, 2016 saw the highest proportion of foreigners-to-Filipinos kidnapped, with 57 incidents, or 31% for the total of that year. Of the 32 foreigners kidnapped in 2018, one (a Korean national) was killed. By contrast, six of the 30 foreigners kidnapped in 2017 were killed.

PSA recorded no kidnappings of Westerners in 2018 or 2017. In both years, all foreign victims of kidnapping were from Asian countries. PSA notes that in a majority of cases wherein foreigners are targeted, the perpetrators include members from that victim’s ethnicity (70% of cases in 2018).

The number of recorded kidnappings perpetrated by suspected or actual government forces and police has risen eightfold over the last year. While PSA recorded just two such incidents with three victims in 2017, there were 15 recorded incidents victimizing 22 people in 2018. A majority of these cases occurred in the NCR, but a few incidents also occurred in other parts of the nation.

In the most common modus operandi related to rogue police officers, rogue officers have used the guise of the ongoing ‘War on Drugs’ to forcibly enter the homes of their victims (often robbing them of valuables), and then detain them while requesting ransom payment from the victim’s relatives. Aside from actual government agents abusing their authority, criminals have been known to don stolen or fake police or other government forces uniforms.