The Philippine casino sector is thriving and so is Chinese tourism — facilitated by closer relations between the two countries, fostered by President Rodrigo Duterte’s pro-China policy after years of squabbling over disputed territories in the South China Sea.

Leila de Lima

Philippine Senator Leila de Lima was imprisoned in 2017 on drugs charges after calling President Rodrigo Duterte a “serial killer.” She has called for the government to do more to combat the problem of Chinese kidnappings linked to the nation’s casinos. (Inquirer)

But opposition politicians want the Duterte administration to do more to combat a worrying trend of a casino industry fueled by Chinese visitation: the explosion of kidnappings in and around casinos.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer reports that, on Monday, opposition senator Leila de Lima urged the government to tackle the problem of kidnappings, which are usually conducted by ethnic Chinese on ethnic Chinese and linked to loansharking.

Prisoner of Conscience

The anti-crime watchdog, Movement for Restoration of Peace and Order (MRPO), has documented 23 victims since the beginning of 2018, and eight victims in January to February this year alone — an average of two victims a month.

Since casino-related kidnapping is fast becoming a lucrative business that remains unchecked, the government must show that it is exerting all efforts to reduce the cases of, if not eradicating, casino-related kidnappings and hold loan shark syndicates accountable for their crimes,” De Lima said in a statement.

“Likewise, appropriate criminal cases should be filed against the suspects because … we don’t want more gamblers to be held against their will, and, second, we don’t want more records of crimes in a country where impunity reigns,” she added.

De Lima released her statement from detention center Camp Crame, where she has resided since February 2017.

A vocal critic of the Duterte administration and the extrajudicial killings linked to the president’s war on drugs, she was arrested on charges of having ties to the drugs trade during her tenure as Philippine Secretary of Justice, from 2010 to 2015. She has been designated a “prisoner of conscience” by numerous human rights organizations.

Underground Banking Networks

Restrictions on the outflow of capital from mainland China have fueled an underground banking industry controlled by organized crime, not just in the Philippines but in numerous countries across the world.

With strict limits on how much cash they can take out of China, Chinese tourists are targets for loan sharks who turn nasty when their clients cannot pay up. Victims are often tortured in order to extort relatives to wire money to the kidnappers.

Just last week, seven Chinese national were arrested by the country’s National Bureau of Investigation for allegedly kidnapping a fellow countryman from a gaming facility in Paranaque City.

Sometimes, kidnappings turn deadly. In February 2017, the body of a kidnap victim was pulled from a creek in General Trias City.

Despite her confinement, de Lima remains an incumbent Senator of the Philippines, and last year filed a bill, SR 953, that aims to tighten regulations for the country’s gambling industry.

“In SR 953, which I filed last year, I’ve mentioned that the country’s loose regulatory policies to monitor casino establishments make the Philippines more susceptible to other crimes and illegal activities that are not limited to kidnapping, including money laundering and fraud,” she said.