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FOCUS: Kidnapping thrives in Philippines, most rampant in 2009.

MANILA, Aug. 20 Kyodo

Kidnapping is thriving in the Philippines, which last year had more such cases than any time since at least 1995, according to a business risk consultancy firm.

Based on information gathered from the government, private organizations, the media, and kidnap victims themselves, at least 138 kidnapping cases occurred last year, according to Pacific Strategies & Assessments, which specializes in Asian risk.

That was slightly up from the 135 cases recorded in 2008, and more than three times higher than the least number cases of 30 recorded in 2004, PSA said in a report titled ''Philippines Annual Kidnapping Report -- Recapping 2009,'' released recently.

''Sometimes referred to as Asia's kidnapping capital, the Philippine kidnapping threat continues to persist and evolve,'' the report said.

''Weak rule of law, rampant corruption, widening socio-economic gaps, and the presence of insurgent and terrorist groups are just some of the factors that perpetuate the kidnapping threat across the country,'' it added.

PSA, which has offices in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Manila and Bangkok and is headed by a retired U.S. Central Intelligence Agency official, has began monitoring kidnappings in the Philippines in 1995.

Between then and the end of last year, it monitored a total of 1,293 kidnapping cases in the country, equivalent to an annual average of 86 cases or about seven incidents a month.

But the actual number of cases could be higher because not every single incident is reported ''due to a variety of reasons, including distrust of government security forces, possible retaliation, sensitive nature of the investigations, and protection of victim families and relatives,'' the report said.

The majority of last year's incidents were kidnap-for-ransom or ''KFR'' cases, the report noted. Some were terrorism or insurgency-related and others were politically motivated or elections-related.

It said 60 percent of incidents happened in the southern island of Mindanao, which is home to separatist insurgents and Muslim extremist groups like the Abu Sayyaf, which has carried out a series of kidnappings, murders and bombings since the early 1990s.

Out of the 143 victims in the 138 cases, 107 were Filipinos, 12 were Filipino-Chinese, while the remaining few were foreigners, mostly Indian nationals.

''Indian money-lenders become easy targets of KFR groups and other criminal syndicates due to the predictability of their travel routes when they conduct business and the fact that they carry large amounts of cash,'' the report said.

The firm said kidnapping of Westerners is ''extremely rare'' in the Philippines for several reasons: they live in well-guarded communities; they generate more media attention if kidnapped; their governments exert great pressure on the Philippine government to solve the kidnappings; and they are less likely to pay ransom demands.

One of last year's most prominent incidents was the Jan. 15 abduction on the southern island of Jolo, in the Sulu Archipelago, of three staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross -- Swiss national Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba -- who spent months in captivity before being released.

The abduction of Irish priest Michael Sinnott by gunmen in Mindanao in October last year also drew huge attention. He too was released.

Among the new kidnapping trends that have emerged is ''kidnap outsourcing,'' like what some criminal groups do in Mindanao in collusion with the Abu Sayyaf, PSA said.

It said that militant group's kidnapping-for-ransom activities ''have proven to be a quite lucrative trade in
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Publication:Asian Political News
Date:Aug 23, 2010
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