Behind the Scenes: Korean Mafia in the Philippines?
THE KIDNAP and killing of Korean businessman Jee Ick Joo unmasked the corruption and criminality within the ranks of the Philippine National Police (PNP), prompting President Duterte to dissolve the PNP Anti-Illegal Drugs Group (AIDG) and to halt drug-related operations of the police, which are now assigned to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA).
Although the Senate inquiry on January 26 showed two key members of the now defunct AIDG trading accusations, the session also yielded a preponderance of evidence that showed the involvement of SPO3 Ricky Sta. Isabel and Supt. Rafael Dumlao III in the Jee kidnap and murder. The two have been charged for kidnapping for ransom with homicide at the Angeles City Regional Trial Court in Pampanga along with others tagged in the case, including NBI errand boy Gerry Omlang and Gerardo Santiago, owner of Gream Funeral Services. Omlang, like Sta. Isabel, identified suspect Dumlao as the mastermind. Santiago maintained he is innocent.
The case at the time revealed the criminal activities of the men in uniform, a scandal which forced Duterte to question the punitive actions of the police in his war on drugs. The exposure of the involvement of Dumlao or Sta. Isabel confirmed a widely held view – that the police were using the drug policy as a way of getting rid of those who could expose the collusion of police with drug lords.
PNP Chief Ronald Dela Rosa announced that the police would investigate the role of the Korean mafia – after suspect Dumlao said they were up against a “formidable opponent.” It was carried by the media with scant evaluation of its basis. Reports picked this up although there was little to substantiate this apart from statements made by PNP officials.
CMFR monitored reports of newspapers Manila Bulletin, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippine Star, Daily Tribune, Malaya, Manila Standard and The Manila Times; primetime newscasts 24 Oras (GMA-7), Aksyon (TV5), Network News (CNN Philippines) and TV Patrol (ABS-CBN 2) from February 4 to 10, 2017.
A mafia behind the scenes?
The Korean mafia theory came after the alleged mastermind Dumlao reportedly revealed to PNP Anti-Kidnapping Group (AKG) chief Supt. Glenn Dumlao — who is not related to the former — that a syndicate is behind accused cop Sta. Isabel. The AKG chief did not disclose further information on the suspect’s claim, but assured that they will go after Sta. Isabel’s alleged protectors. Note that there was no mention by Dumlao about a foreign group. (“Anti-kidnapping chief: Dumlao fearing Sta. Isabel, his protectors,”Julianne Love De Jesus, Inquirer, February 2)
On February 4, Dela Rosa claimed that rogue policemen and some members of the NBI connived to kidnap and murder Jee, citing new information from the PNP-NBI task force investigating the case. He also mentioned the possible involvement of the Korean mafia. But he said it was still being investigated. The media however gave this information enough prominence, noting it in a headline. (“Bato probes ‘Korean mafia’ hand in kidnap-slay,” Jerome Aning, Inquirer, February 4)
On the same day, the Inquirer’s “Cop says ‘Korean mafia’ killed Jee”(Arlyn dela Cruz, February 4) sought the knowledge of a former officer in the now-defunct AIDG, who was previously assigned to the PNP Intelligence Group (IG), and retired Police Director Rodolfo “Boogie” Mendoza who both acknowledged and said the Korean syndicate is real.
Mendoza also affirmed suspect Rafael Dumlao’s claims about Sta. Isabel’s protectors and said that there have been cases of killings of Koreans as ordered by the syndicate as early as 2005 or 2006 with the help of rogue cops and corrupt NBI and Bureau of Immigration agents.
But even Mendoza’s testimony ran short of precisely describing how the syndicate was involved in the Jee kidnap-murder.
Following Dela Rosa’s announcement, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II disclosed that investigators were already looking into the involvement of other Korean nationals in the kidnap-slay of Jee. Similarly, Aguirre declined to provide further information when asked by reporters whether investigators already identified Koreans as persons of interest. He also said the Department of Justice (DOJ) already sought the help of the South Korean government in the conduct of the investigation. (“’Korean mafia’ eyed in Jee slay case,” Jeffrey G. Damicog, Bulletin, February 7).
Both Dela Rosa and Aguirre said they are investigating the Korean mafia angle alongside the involvement of the rogue cops.
No less than the president further amplified the connection in an interview with reporters in Davao City. “It’s strongest in Cebu. If you ask (any person there) or if you go to Cebu for an investigative journalism you will find out,” Duterte said. (“Duterte: Korean mafia active in Cebu,” Alexis Romero and Paolo Romero, Star, February 6)
For their part, Malaya, Standard, Tribune and the Times had very minimal coverage of the Korean mafia issue during the monitor period, not differing from this “he-said, she-said” treatment; with only one or two reports noting the announcements or comments made by government officials on the matter.
Introducing the possible involvement of a Korean criminal group could have created an even darker picture of the corruption in the police. But the media did not explore this angle further. Dela Rosa’s remarks were casually made, without establishing the connection based on sufficient evidence. But as the reports and headlines highlighted the notion, the remarks and the reports were a distraction, perhaps designed to lead the public to think more about the criminality of foreigners in the country and less about the culpability of the police.
Media’s carrying this angle as prominently as some did reflected the credence that media gave the suggested connection. But it was dropped as quickly with hardly any follow up of the investigation promised by the PNP. The same reporters did not explore this angle any further.
Probing further into this speculation would have raised questions about how much the police were engaged with foreign crime syndicates, including those involved in the drug trade. The press should have asked if Dela Rosa had known about the Korean mafia before he took office. This line of questioning would have called attention to the administration’s lack of knowledge about grave internal problems within the PNP which the president had entrusted to carry out the punitive strategy of the drug war.
Unfortunately, reporters seemed satisfied with simply recording the speculative statements dangled by the police chief, supporting without evaluation what could have been intended as a red herring to distract attention from the serious issues.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who led the Senate inquiry on the case, was skeptical. The same day the angle was floated, Lacson commented that the Korean mafia involvement is “quite a stretch” and cautioned probers to be “very careful in processing information that have suddenly sprouted from various sources.” (“Lacson: ‘Korean mafia’ role farfetched,” Tarra Quismundo, Inquirer, February 5)
A few days later, the Korean embassy dismissed the theory as “nonsense” (“Korean mafia in Jee slay? Nonsense, says embassy,” Tarra Quismundo, Inquirer, February 8). Likewise, AKG chief Dumlao said he doesn’t believe there is a Korean mafia working behind the scenes but clarified that he is not ruling out the possibility that other Koreans might be involved. (“Pagkawala ng iba pang dayuhan, iniimbestigahan nang PNP Anti-Kidnapping Group,” Maan Macapagal, TV Patrol, February 9)
What comes next?
Exploring the supposed Korean mafia involvement requires more journalistic investigation. So far, no in-depth reports have taken the lead into this. Media seemed to have simply let up on the issue, seemingly content with only scratching the surface, or content to become the government’s press, especially when high officials are besieged and hounded by the scandal of criminals in uniform.
The media should be the first to make the point: the police involved in the kidnap and murder of Jee are no less culpable, with or without the connection to the Korean mafia.
The media should heed Senator Lacson’s advice and apply this to the handling of official statements: Information coming from various official sources should be processed carefully and media should focus on the important points that the public should understand. So much of what they say is noise-making for the sake of publicity.