Philippines Kidnapping Overview 2019

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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 150 incidents for 2019. 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 2019, PSA recorded 150 kidnapping incidents involving 225 victims, 16 of whom (7.1%) were ultimately killed. The 150 total kidnapping incidents in 2019, was higher than the number of incidents recorded in the previous year (117).

PSA acknowledges that this is principally a result of methodological changes, as in this year’s report we include incidents specifically targeting young children, of which there were 35. In previous years, PSA did not include “baby snatching” incidents in its final tally. However, due to a spike in reports of such incidents in 2019, at least some of which were cited in various reports as related to human trafficking and/or pedophilia syndicates, PSA decided it would be prudent to give our clients greater visibility on this phenomenon.

The total number of victims in 2019 was 225, up 13.6% from the previous year. There were slightly fewer victims per incident in 2019, with 1.5 victims per incident, compared to 1.67 victims per incident in 2018.

There was a significant decline in maritime and coastal attacks perpetrated by the Abu Sayyaf Group in 2019 with just 3 such incidents, compared to 12 in 2018. PSA recorded two maritime attacks, victimizing a group of 10 Filipino fishermen and another group of 3 Indonesian fisherman. The single coastal attack saw British national Allan Arthur Hyrons and his Filipina wife taken from their beach resort in Tukuran, Zamboanga del Sur on October 4, 2019. They were rescued by security forces on November 25, 2019.

PSA believes this reflects that the ASG’s capabilities have remained far below their high watermark just before the events in Bohol in 2017. The elevated maritime and coastal activity PSA recorded in 2018 appeared to show the ASG attempting to rebuild some of its lost capacity, but continued pressure by security forces on land and ever-increasing monitoring capabilites by air and sea appear to have continued to frustrate the ASG’s efforts. The ASG’s activities continue to be geographically constrained – they operate predominantly around the Zamboanga peninsula and in the Sulu Sea between Mindanao and Sabah (including the ASG bailiwicks of Basilan, Jolo, and Tawi-Tawi).

There were 58 incidents targeting foreigners with 75 total foreign victims in 2019, up significantly from 32 foreign victims in 2018. Foreign victims comprised 33% of total victims for the year 2019, more than doubling the rate of foreign victimization seen in 2018 (16%).

The increase in foreign victimization appears to be highly correlated to the Philippines’ burgeoning gaming industry. Of the 58 recorded incidents, 41 were related to the gaming industry, while 13 of those were related to the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator (POGO) industry.

Of the 75 foreign nationals kidnapped in 2019, none were killed. In contrast, of the 32 foreigners kidnapped in 2018, one (a Korean national) was killed.

Whereas PSA recorded no kidnappings of Westerners in 2018 or 2017, this year PSA recorded 4 incidents of Westerners being kidnapped with 3 Western victims in total. In January, a British national was abducted in Makati by his former business partner but was rescued the next day. An Australian-Chinese national was kidnapped twice, once in February and once more in May, both times over gambling debts. Finally, another British national was kidnapped with his wife from their resort in Zamboanga by the ASG but was ultimately rescued a month later.

PSA continues to note that in most cases wherein foreigners are targeted, the perpetrators include members of the victim’s ethnicity/nationality (86% of cases involving foreign victims in 2019). The number of recorded kidnappings perpetrated by suspected or actual government forces and police was down significantly from 2018, with just two recorded incidents in 2019 with one victim in
each case. By contrast, there were 15 recorded incidents victimizing 22 people in 2018. PSA did record two instances of KFR Syndicate members posing as police officers to facilitate their abductions. Criminals have been known to occasionally utilize stolen or fake uniforms of the police or other government forces.