MANILA — When Manuel Luis Ongpin, the teenage nephew of the late finance secretary Jaime Ongpin, was kidnapped and murdered early this month, he was the 37th victim to be kidnapped in Manila this year.
As violent crime continues to skyrocket in the capital of the Philippines, Ongpin became just another statistic bolstering the city's image as the kidnap capital of Asia.
As kidnappings, murders, and violent bank robberies continue, an outraged public, the media, and politicians are banding together to condemn the government of President Fidel Ramos for failing to stop the crime wave.
The international security consultants Control Risks Pacific Pty. Ltd. estimate there were 600 kidnap victims in the Philippines in the last three years, of which 30 were murdered by their abductors. And Citizens Action Against Crime (CAAC) reports that $4.3 million in ransom money was paid out to kidnappers in 1995 alone.
Crime has become one of the most urgent problems facing the Philippines' government. Its lack of solutions and inability to curb crime is increasingly drawing the wrath of the public. Instead, critics say, President Ramos prefers to call "summits." These meetings are conferences designed to come up with solutions for national problems.
At the most recent "peace and order" summit, the public was astonished when Ramos accused the media of distorting the crime picture. His anticrime campaign, he said, was "making good progress." If the situation was bad as the press depicted it to be, he added, why then did foreign investors continue to come to the country?
Critics agree that kidnappers have not targeted foreigners in a big way but that they mainly prey on wealthy ethnic Chinese-Filipinos. The highly visible role of the Chinese in the country's economic growth has made them obvious targets.
SEEING only talk and no action, the CAAC boycotted the summit, the fourth in three years. "What's the use? The summits produce only manifests and statements. Nothing gets done," says Teresita Ang See, CAAC's founder.
Ramos has tried to revamp the discredited Philippine National Police, switching police chiefs three times in three years, but with no credible results. Kidnapping and robberies are the biggest blight on his record as president even as he has managed to turn the economy around.
Mrs. Ang See says she wants to see the real crooks in prison: police generals and colonels who are believed by many to be behind many of the kidnapping and robbing syndicates.
So deep-seated is police corruption that skeptics doubt if the new interior secretary, James Barbers, a veteran in the war against Manila hoodlums, will make any difference. Mr. Barbers assumed the post early this week, and, with bravura, declared he would quit in a year if he failed to curb crime. He announced a "Sky Action Group" to patrol Manila by helicopter and a hot line to victims' families who have been afraid to report cases to the police.
Rene Cayetano, legal counsel to the president, says Ramos is also speeding up proposals to increase the salaries of law enforcers to keep them from joining the lucrative kidnapping business.
Anticrime groups say that lenient sentences have encouraged even amateurs to enter crime and suggest using public executions of criminals as a deterrent.