By Hannah Torregoza
Opposition Senator Leila de Lima on Monday called on the government to address the rising number of kidnapping incidents connected to high-stakes gambling in the country.
De Lima, chair of the Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare, and Rural Development, said the government should prevent gamblers from falling prey to loan shark syndicates.
The senator also said authorities should intensify its manhunt against kidnapping groups to bring them to justice and stop them from victimizing more people.
“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 eradicate, casino-related kidnappings and holding loan shark syndicates accountable for their crimes,” De Lima said in a statement.
The anti-crime watchdog Movement for Restoration of Peace and Order (MRPO) had earlier raised alarm over the rising number of kidnapping incidents perpetrated by loan shark syndicates by revealing that it has already documented a total of 23 victims since 2018.
MRPO said it has already recorded eight casino-related kidnapping incidents from January to February of this year – or an average of two victims a month – which does not include many other cases where the victims did not report to authorities.
MRPO said that in victimizing gamblers, these kidnapping groups would normally induce the former to borrow money at casinos and later detain them while asking their relatives for money should they fail to repay gambling debts.
“What I find extremely alarming is the use of physical torture to victims to force them to release large amount of money or ask their relatives here or abroad to do so, in exchange for their freedom, as this can lead to death,” De Lima said.
Among the reported scenario where the victim ended up dead includes the case of Chinese whose body was recovered from a creek in General Trias City after he went missing last February 20.
Noting the continued rise of casino hotels and online gaming sites, De Lima reiterated the need for the government to re-examine and possibly revise laws regulating the operations of these establishments.
She said the crimes and illegal activities related to casino-entertainment hotels and or resorts and online gambling only shows the utmost need for the government to investigate these concerns.
“In Senate Resolution (SR) No. 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, among others,” she said.