MANILA - Ten years before the kidnapping and murder of Betti Chua Sy, a funeral-protest march 10 kilometers long and attended by 20,000 people was held for another victimized member of the Chinese-Filipino community.
Charlene Mayne Sy (no relations), 15, was kidnapped and killed in January 1993, en route to school in the family van. A five-vehicle convoy staged her abduction.
The kidnappers' radio frequency was monitored by the police who set up a roadblock, but the kidnappers opened fire, wounding two officers. Not realizing that Charlene was in the lead car which had heavily tinted windows, the police shot and killed all four kidnappers in the van-and Charlene.
The gruesome sight of Charlene's bloodied corpse still in her school uniform, laid out beside her four kidnappers on the corner sidewalk of Edsa and Quezon Boulevard, was surreal. Chinese schools, Binondo stores and car parts shops on Banawe in Quezon City, all closed to attend Charlene's funeral. Huge streamers read: After Charlene, who's next?
Forced out of comfort zone
Later that day, Chinese-Filipino brothers, aged 11 and 14, were rescued by the police, no thanks to their mother who, frightened, had refused to report the abduction. A tip from an informant helped police track down the boys and their nine abductors.
No one can blame the victims' next-of-kin for not wanting to report kidnappings, not knowing the "bad cops" from the good, preferring to haggle with kidnappers, then pay the ransom.
Apprehensive, some send their schoolchildren abroad. Singapore alone has 200 Chinese-Filipino students. Whole families also have abandoned comfortable lives here to live in strange surroundings and start new livelihoods from scratch. Some of the siblings of Teresita Ang See, leader of the Movement for the Restoration of Peace and Order (MRPO), have fled.
Ang See worked hard in the 1990s to convince victims to report such crimes to the police. But when a kidnap-for-ransom (KFR) victim entered the room of a high-ranking officer in Camp Crame, there sat his kidnapper. The victim fled.
Very recent events have exposed the fact that more than a few policemen, including high-ranking officers, are heavily involved in KFR exploits.
William Chua, deceased partner in the Yorac, Azcuna, Chua law office, had told The New York Times' Seth Mydans: "In New York, the police respond to a kidnapping in seven minutes. In London they arrive in just three minutes. But in the Philippines they are the fastest of all: They are on the scene at the moment the crime is committed."
Small but feisty, Ang See led the formation of the MRPO in 1993. Women leaders in the Citizens Action Against Crime joined forces with MRPO to combat criminality, but meetings with the police led nowhere.
In 2003 alone, 156 KFRs, including non-Chinese-Filipinos, were reported. MRPO was reorganised that year composed of victims and their families. Apart from the National Anti-Kidnapping Task Force, the Presidential Anti-Crime Emergency Response (Pacer) was also organised by the Philippine National Police.
Eventually, the Pacer-MRPO partnership worked extremely well, with the number of Chinese-Filipino KFRs dropping significantly. Joint safety seminars on crime prevention were also held nationwide.
The grateful Chinese-Filipino community donated cars, mobile telephones and computers to help beef up Pacer's ability to respond to kidnappings.
But still, KFRs proved to be so lucrative that mainland Chinese nationals tried their hand at it, too. In 2001, a gang of seven kidnapped Rowena "Jacky" Sy Tiu in San Fernando, La Union province, keeping her for eight days until her father paid a P10-million ransom.