Tsinoys as kidnap targets: Hard workers, silent victims
First of a series
Seven out of 10 kidnap-for-ransom (KFR) victims in Manila this year are Tsinoys—Chinese-Filipinos with every right to live in peace as much as the next Pinoy; Filipino citizens and ethnic Chinese, not aliens.
Constituting only 1.2 percent of the population, they nevertheless are kidnappers’ victims of choice.
When kidnappers are caught, court cases take years before they are resolved. Kidnapped on Oct. 17, 2000, Eunice Kaye Chuang, 5, and her yaya (nursemaid) Bibet were found dead in the ceiling of their assailant’s house.
The first judge hearing the case retired; today’s third is assigned simultaneously to three cities. The case is on its 14th year.
Dennis Roldan, aka Mitchell Gumabao, erstwhile bit actor and congressman, was sentenced to reclusion perpetua (imprisonment in perpetuity) some weeks ago and delivered to New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City.
He and his coaccused were indicted for the KFR of 3-year-old Kenshi Yu, after nine years of hearings, five judges, four of whom inhibited themselves. The first judge had granted bail. Meanwhile, Roger Yu, Kenshi’s father, died under mysterious circumstances; three criminals were killed, or died. Coaccused Suzette Wang remains at large.
Why are Tsinoys such valued KFR targets? The New York Times’ Seth Mydans wrote in 1996 that “the highly visible role of the Chinese in Philippine economic growth … made them obvious targets for extortion.”
It was not always so. Many were dirt-poor when hordes first came in the Spanish era. The taipan John Gokongwei, for example, got his start biking to the pier to buy retazo (textile scraps) to sell. Alfred Yao had even humbler beginnings, a helper in a billiard hall, sleeping past midnight and rising before dawn. He and his mother, a sidewalk vendor, supported the family of six siblings. Today, he is president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, owns Zest-O and a bank, and partners in AirAsia Zest. San Miguel Corp. president Ramon Ang used to be a mechanic for wealthy car owners.
A case study
The family of Betti Chua Sy, a high-ranking finance executive with Coca-Cola when she became a KFR and murder victim in 2003, makes for a good case study.
Arriving from Fookien in the 1930s, Betti’s grandfather worked for a Spanish family as errand boy, saving his wages and learning Spanish and Tagalog. After a year, he started a small lumber business which grew but burned down during the war.
With his postwar savings, he opened a hardware store and sent some of his eight children to college. Left out because his father could not afford his college education, Betti’s father went to vocational school, then set up an electronics repair shop.
He opened a metal recycling factory in Caloocan City in 1965 and, by 1978, was operating a plastic extruding plant, recycling plastic scraps into pellets sold to makers of finished plastic products.
Betti’s father sent all his five sons to college, four of whom have master’s degrees. The only girl, Betti, went to the University of the Philippines, then became an investment banker before joining Coca-Cola. She did so well that the company sent her to Wharton for a business course.
A few weeks before she was kidnapped, she traveled to Thailand with Coke’s cream of the crop to meet their chairman. “They were the best and the brightest,” the Pacific region’s top honcho said.
She had suitors but cheerfully refused marriage, telling her parents and her grandmother that her duty was to take care of them. Her five brothers weren’t expected to do that.
The morning of Nov. 16, 2003, an FX taxi blocked Betti’s car. Kidnappers ordered her to alight; when she refused, they shot her through the window, carried her into the taxi and shot her fatally twice more.
She bled to death in 30 minutes. Brought to the kidnappers’ safe house in Trece Martires, Cavite province, she was wrapped in a shroud, stuffed into a garbage bag and dumped on Diosdado Macapagal Avenue. She was found the next day.
Smelling Betti’s perfume in nightmares, the spooked taxi driver turned himself in to the Parañaque City police. Erstwhile Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes, the head of the National Anti-Kidnapping Task Force, acting on leads provided by the taxi driver and the Sys’ factory employee, cast a dragnet which yielded 20 Waray-Waray gang members, of whom 10 were the most wanted criminals.
Sy’s father told his family to migrate to another country while he pursued the criminals’ indictments. The family refused. The Sys received bomb threats during the wake and the trial. The Movement for the Restoration of Peace and Order, with Teresita Ang-See as chair, was a big help. As a Sy brother noted: “Folks helping others, victims helping other victims, was therapy.”
After five years, the culprits were sentenced to life imprisonment, except for the taxi driver; a state witness, he was freed.
Thousands marched with Betti’s hearse, asking again: Who’s next?
(To be continued)
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