Murder capital

September 8, 2015 at 15:15

Murder capital

 (The Philippine Star) |

Of the 23 South Koreans murdered around the world last year, 10 died in the Philippines.

We still have four months to go before we find out if the murder rate dampened Koreans’ interest in visiting our country. For sure the reports prevented a hefty increase in the number of arrivals. Last year I read several strongly worded articles published in Korea, warning their people about high personal safety risks in the Philippines.

South Korea is our country’s biggest source of tourists, accounting for 1,175,472 or 24.32 percent of the 4.8 million arrivals last year and 33 percent of inbound receipts, or over P61 billion. The number of inbound visitors was just slightly higher than the 1,165,789 in 2013.

Koreans can be determined tourists. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the global travel industry reeled from widespread concerns over flight safety and the hassle of stringent airport security checks. American tourist mecca Hawaii took a direct hit. I arrived there on an East-West Center Jefferson Fellowship about two weeks after 9/11 and the atmosphere was funereal – not just because of the national grieving over the victims of the terrorist attack, but also because of the devastating impact on the state’s main industry, tourism.

Hawaiians told me that the only folks who were still traveling, patiently waiting in line at airports (and enjoying great bargains) came from one country: South Korea. Travel industry players in the continental United States later told me the same thing.

Maybe their blood-drenched past and being technically in a state of war for several decades now (air raid drills are still held regularly) have made the Koreans more daring in facing the risks of international travel. They also have money to spend, and our government should be glad that their travelers seem to like the Philippines. Direct flights from Korea to our top destinations such as Boracay have helped sustain the high arrival numbers.

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So it would be a shame if criminality drives the Koreans away from the Philippines and to other destinations in Southeast Asia.

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Last year’s attacks on Koreans occurred not in conflict zones in Mindanao, where Abu Sayyaf bandits are still holding five foreigners as hostages, but in Metro Manila and other areas that aren’t considered high security risks.

In addition to the killings, Koreans have been kidnapped for ransom or victimized by carjackers as soon as they leave the NAIA arrival area.

It’s cold comfort for Koreans – or any foreign visitor for that matter – to be told that criminals in this country do not discriminate on race, and Filipinos from all walks of life are also murdered with impunity.

If we go by news reports, it looks like the Philippines now has the highest murder/homicide rate in the region. We may be used to it, but many foreigners are not, and the government must confront the problem with more decisiveness.

For those living in countries where private citizens have no right to bear firearms, simply scanning the daily news in the Philippines can be scary. In the past five weeks alone, a judge, four journalists and several politicians have been murdered across the country. Even if the motives may not be related to work or politics, the attacks still show how easy it is to kill in this country – and worse, to get away with it.

Whenever there’s a public outcry about rising criminality, the typical government response is to clamp down on gun ownership. But only law-abiding gun owners who bother to go through the difficult process of obtaining a gun license (and pay the hefty fees) are affected by such clampdowns. You don’t use a licensed gun to commit a crime. You buy an original in the black market or a cheaper homemade paltik from Danao.

In the autonomous Muslim region, if Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano is correct, you manufacture high-powered guns in a clandestine facility of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The loose firearms remain largely untouched and surely continue to grow with unchecked smuggling. The guns are used readily for murder and mayhem, with the violence expected to escalate as the 2016 elections approach.

There’s no comprehensive study on the impact of this gun culture on our economy, but I’m sure it’s not positive.

Thailand, now suffering from the fallout of the terrorist bombing at a shrine in central Bangkok, is scrambling to reassure foreign visitors of their safety. Sometimes pushing the panic button is useful. We should be doing the same thing here.

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OPTIONS: Speaking of South Korea, the capital Seoul also used to have nightmarish traffic. Among the solutions that Koreans say helped a lot was designating the inner lanes of their main thoroughfares instead of the curbside as exclusive bus lanes, with commuters also waiting for their rides only along those lanes. They have a left-hand drive system like us. Buses cannot swerve out of the inner lanes, and the turns they can make are limited.

This system, of course, needs strict adherence to bus schedules and the eradication of the boundary system imposed by bus operators on their drivers.

All fares on their buses and the Seoul subway are paid through a common swipe card, which is also used to pay numerous types of bills.

Considering that we can’t even ensure smooth telecommunications interconnection, this is an even more unlikely prospect for us in the near future. But when you’re stewing in heavy traffic, dreaming of options can help you maintain your sanity. Other countries have done it; maybe one day we also can.


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