The following is the first of a three-part series on growing safety risks facing Koreans in the Philippines in the wake of a series of murders of students, businessmen and travelers in the Southeast Asian country. ― ED.
By Kim Se-jeong
The death of a female college student in Manila has renewed concerns about the safety of Koreans in the Philippines, a popular destination for students, businessmen and retirees.
She was the fourth Korean killed in the country this year.
Last year, 12 Koreans were shot or stabbed to death; but no suspects have been taken into custody.
The foreign ministry dismissed a claim that Koreans were being targeted.
"The Philippine's criminal system is weak, and, without exception, the number of crimes and killings of visitors is rising for Chinese, Japanese and Americans alike. Each visitor should stay vigilant."
Experts opine that the Koreans are often victims of contract killings organized by their compatriots.
The Philippine embassy was not available for comment.
On Tuesday, Lee, a 21-year-old student, was found dead outside Manila.
She had been kidnapped more than a month ago.
Her body was found in the hideout of her kidnappers, who reportedly called her brother for a ransom.
No information is available about the identity of the kidnappers and their motivation.
In February, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a Korean man was found dead on a highway near Benguet, north of Manila. The police found gunshot wounds on his body. This was followed by two separate shootings, both in Angeles City, north of Manila — one in February and the other on April 6.
Some experts pointed their finger at Korean criminals there, saying that more protection is needed for travelers.
"It is highly possible that there are Koreans behind these crimes," said Professor Kim Dong-yeob at Busan University of Foreign Studies.
According to him, the majority of cases involving Korean victims are contract killings. "Many Koreans flying to the Philippines have a reason to flee Korea. Many are gang members escaping law enforcement. What they end up doing is paying people to swindle money from Koreans. businessmen, students and tourists."
Cho Yang-eun, a leader of Korean organized gang named "Yangeunyi" is one example. He was detained in November last year in the northern Philippines.
According to the National Police Agency, 170 criminals on its wanted list are currently in the Philippines.
A Korean running a private youth hostel in the Philippines echoed the professor.
"The cause of crimes involving Korean nationals happening in the Philippines is either a contract killing or a random one targeting wealthy Koreans," she said, declining to be named.
Koreans are the biggest expatriate community in the Philippines. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 88,000 Koreans were living in the Philippines in 2012. The Philippine Department of Tourism said more than 1.16 million Koreans entered the country last year.
Prof. Park noted understanding the country could explain rampant killings higher than neighboring countries.
"You can own a gun in the Philippines. Also, it is a Catholic country, meaning people probably feel freer than those visiting Malaysia or Indonesia which are Muslim countries. And take Thailand, for example. They have better protection for foreign tourists," Park said.
Kidnappings are also rampant in southern islands where anti-government militants have been fighting for many years.
On Thursday, the foreign ministry announced that it will dispatch a diplomat and police officers to the Philippines to study safety conditions and find ways to beef up safety for Korean nationals.