South Korea warns of crime impact

August 15, 2014 at 11:43

CRIMINALITY may have been a constant concern of tourists and investors in the country for quite some time, but perceived frequency of incidents has prompted one foreign embassy to raise the issue publicly with the government.

In a press release e-mailed yesterday to media, titled: “Korean Embassy expresses deep concern about increasing criminality,” the foreign mission warned that the country’s attractiveness to prospective investors could be eroded.

“The rising incidence of crimes committed against Koreans while in the Philippines either on vacation or on business is a trend that has alarmed the Embassy of the Republic of Korea,” the statement read.

It noted that an increasing number of Koreans has been manifesting interest to invest in the Philippines but warned that crimes against Koreans, if unchecked, could affect businessmen’s interest in the Philippines.

“With the favorable economic climate under the administration of President [Benigno S.C.] Aquino [III], more and more Koreans have been manifesting their interest to invest in the Philippines,” the statement read.

“It is feared that if crimes against innocent Koreans persist, businessmen will avoid the Philippines and seek safer places for doing business.”

The embassy cited nine documented cases of Korean nationals killed in the Philippines since January. It particularly cited two cases: that of Bae Minju, a Korean businessman who was killed by armed men who stole his car last July 27 as well as the one involving 21-year-old college student Lee Ji Won who was abducted last June and murdered by suspects who included the driver of the taxi cab he rode.

“It (Mr. Lee’s death) was a brutal and senseless crime that rattled the Korean community in the Philippines,” the statement read, adding that Korean Ambassador to the Philippines Hyuk Lee “has reached out to pertinent agencies, such as the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Philippine National Police, as well as the Office of the President, in hopes that an intensified effort on the part of the Philippine government to curb criminality will lead to a safer environment for Korean nationals.”

Mr. Lee, the statement added, has pressed the government on specific measures to prevent motor vehicles — particularly taxi cabs — from being used in crimes and to prevent Korean nationals from being targeted for kidnapping or carnapping by organized criminal syndicates.

“Such preemptive actions would allay the anxiety of Koreans, who have been coming to the Philippines in greater numbers either as tourists or as investors,” the embassy said.

Koreans account for a chunk of international tourists in the country, Tourism Assistant Secretary Benito C. Bengzon, Jr. said via text message yesterday.

In the first half, Korean tourists accounted for 547,971, or 22.52%, of the total foreign visitors. They made up 24.9% of the total or 1.17 million last year; 24.13% or 1.03 million in 2012; 23.62% or 925,204 in 2011; and 21.04% or 740,622 in 2010.

Central Bank data show that net foreign direct investments from South Korea were nearly halved to $2.36 million last year from $4.09 million in 2012. Such inflows have continued to drop — by 75.34% to just $440,000 as of May from $1.78 million in the same five months last year.

Philippine exports to South Korea grew 8% to $3.135 billion last year from $2.882 billion in 2012, while imports from that neighbor rose 5% to $4.766 billion from $4.525 billion in the same comparative years.

Criminality and efforts to address this problem have been a key indicator in the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Competitive Index, where — out of 148 economies — the Philippines in 2013 ranked 101st in terms of business costs of crime and violence, 86th in terms of business cost due to organized crime, and 94th in terms of reliability of police services.

Moreover, the second semester 2014 Makati Business Club Executive Outlook Survey ranked the Philippine National Police (PNP) 56th in a list of 61 state agencies, down from 49th in 2012, with a net score of negative 47.7 (24.6 satisfied against 72.3 “not satisfied”).

Sought for comment on South Korea’s concern, Communications Secretary Herminio B. Coloma Jr., replied in a text message yesterday that the government is taking “decisive steps to address the rising crimes.”

“We’re taking the matter seriously and this is given priority attention by the PNP and law enforcement agencies,” he said.

“Part of the government’s duty is to ensure the safety of all nationals residing in the country, and we want to assure the Korean embassy that this is being given highest priority by the Philippine government.”

For his part, PNP Public Information Chief Reuben Theodore C. Sindac sought to assure Korean nationals of action.

“They have nothing to be worried about — Filipinos are also victims of these crimes,” Mr. Sindac said.

“The PNP Chief himself assured them that this will be acted upon. Still, one murder to us is still always a murder too many.”

John D. Forbes, American Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines senior adviser, noted via text: “We have few reports of crimes against American businessmen. However, the Philippines has one of the highest homicide rates in Asia of more than five per 100,000 people, about the same as the US.”

European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines Executive Vice-President Henry J. Schumacher, in a separate text message, said: “We are watching the crime rate closely and are targeting a dialogue with PNP chief (Alan L.M.) Purisima.” — Imee Charlee C. Delavin



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