There is no Korean mafia operating in Cebu, only gangsters fleeing from the law in their own country, diplomatic officials of South Korea said yesterday.
Moreover, South Koreans living in Cebu are peace-loving people who are just as worried and fearful about reports that a dreaded mafia from their country is operating in Cebu.
Consul Yong Sang Lee, the police attaché of the South Korea Consulate in Cebu, clarified in a press conference yesterday that while there is no presence of a Korean mafia in Cebu, there are some fugitives from his country who are hiding in Cebu.
He referred to these fugitives as “Korean gangster” who worked individually and not as a group.
Bong Hwan Cho, the president of the Cebu Korean Association, also told Cebu Daily News that a number of Koreans now temporarily residing in Cebu had approached and told him that they were “very affected and scared” by reports that the dreaded group is in Cebu.
“We are scared already. Korean mafia is very sensitive word (for us). If (we say) mafia, we are thinking ‘Oh, (that’s the) worst,’” Cho said.
He added that most of the Koreans who are staying in Cebu are small businessmen who run restaurants, coffee shops, lodging houses, souvenirs and diving shops and who work as tour guides, among others.
As of latest count, there are at least 25,000 South Koreans living in Cebu, Lee said.
About half a million South Korean tourists also visited Cebu last year, figures from the Department of Tourism showed.
Lee said that based on their monitoring, most of the Korean nationals who are hiding in Cebu have either estafa cases or were involved in vehicular accidents in their country. Only one or two have committed serious crimes, such as murder, in South Korea, Lee added.
These fugitives, he added, are not expected to cause harm to Filipinos or their fellow Koreans living in Cebu as they mostly steer clear of any criminal activity in order to avoid detection.
“Most of them come to hide themselves. Some were convicted of estafa, some were involved in cases of vehicular injury, and one or two committed serious crimes,” Lee added.
Lee admitted there were several criminal incidents between 2009 and 2013 perpetrated by Korean nationals against fellow Koreans, but this stopped in 2014 after a police attaché was assigned to their consular office in Cebu.
Lee also revealed that they have already deported back to their country about 20 Korean fugitives since 2014, and their monitoring continues.
“I can say that there are some Korean gangsters here, but they are not organized, and they just come here to hide themselves, avoiding the Korean (law) enforcement,” Lee explained.
He admitted that some of these fugitives hiding in Cebu once belonged to the Korean mafia, but after they arrived in the Philippines, some broke away from the mafia.
The President’s pronouncement
Only last week, President Rodrigo Duterte revealed that a “Korean mafia” is operating in the country and is “strongest” in Cebu, where it runs drug and prostitution rings.
The President made this revelation last Saturday night in Davao City, amid allegations that a Korean mafia masterminded the kidnapping and death of South Korean national Jee Ick-Joo, who allegedly died in the hands of rogue cops inside Camp Crame in October last year.
The death of Jee, who was allegedly abducted by policemen in the guise of conducting an anti-drug operation and who were paid P5 million in ransom by his family, prompted President Duterte to order the Philippine National Police (PNP) to stop engaging in the drug war until it has cleansed its ranks of scalawags in uniform.
Chief Supt. Noli Taliño, the director of the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas (PRO-7), said that they have invited other law enforcement agencies in the region, such as the National Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Immigration and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, to validate the report.
“We fully support the statement of the President by way of validating the information as to the presence of the alleged Korean mafia in Cebu,” Taliño said.
He, however, stressed that based on his initial discussions with the other law enforcement agencies, “we haven’t monitored any operation of (a Korean) mafia (in Cebu).”
South Korea Consul General in Cebu Sung Yong Oh, meanwhile, said he was deeply concerned about the safety of the members of the Korean community in Central Visayas, as many have become scared that they may be labeled as members of a mafia.
Most were worried about what the people of Cebu might think of them, Oh added.
Oh stressed that majority of the Koreans in Cebu abide by and respect Philippine laws.
“The Korean community in Cebu is very peaceful. No more serious crimes (happened) this year, like kidnapping, murder. No more this time,” Oh said.
He said the Korean community in Cebu was also very concerned that news like this could affect the future relationship of the Philippines and South Korea.
“I’m very concerned about this,” Oh told reporters.
For one, he stressed, this might affect the tourism prospects of the country, since Korean nationals have already had second thoughts about studying or having their vacation in the Philippines, especially in Cebu.
“In 2015, more than 700,000 Koreans came in Cebu for vacation and to study English. Now, if they are concerned about their safety in Cebu, then the tourists might not want to come here,” he said. “I think what is directly affected is tourism… We need to calm down because we need to boost (a) mutual(ly beneficial) relation between Philippines and Korea, mutual human exchange, cultural exchange and economy relationship,” he added.