You would think that the kidnapping and murder in 2016 of a South Korean businessman by a Philippine National Police (PNP) anti-drug squad would put the brakes on South Korean government support for the PNP.
The South Korean Embassy in Manila and the Korean Police National Agency this week donated more than 130 vehicles to the PNP as part of a six-year agreement between the South Korean government and the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs. The South Korean ambassador, Han Dong-man, described the donated vehicles as “a form of gratitude for the heroism of more than 7,000 Filipino soldiers during the Korean war in 1950.” Han said the purpose of the donation of the 49 Hyundai Elantras and 81 Starex vans is to “help maintain peace and order in Metro Manila.”
As a Manila resident, Ambassador Han should know better.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s murderous drug war has resulted in the deaths of more than 12,000 men, women, and children by police and police-backed vigilantes. Human Rights Watch research found that many of the killings have been summary executions in which police or their agents planted weapons and drugs on bodies and then claimed the victims had “fought back.” No one has been held to account for these killings.
Han’s comments also neglect the fact that the South Korean businessman, named Jee Ick-joo, was one of those victims and that prosecution of his alleged killers has stalled. A police Anti-Illegal Drugs Group kidnapped Jee on October 18, 2016, after raiding his home in Angeles City using a fake arrest warrant that falsely implicated him in illegal drug activities. The abductors strangled Jee to death that day, but two weeks later demanded – and received – a US$100,000 ransom from his family.
The South Korean government can play a meaningful role in helping to “maintain peace and order in Metro Manila,” but not by no-strings-attached equipment donations to the police. On behalf of Jee Ick-joo, South Korea should use its leverage as a major source of foreign aid and investment to the Philippines to publicly demand an end to the “drug war” killings and support efforts by the United Nations and International Criminal Court to seek accountability for those deaths. Assistance to the Philippines should benefit the anti-drug campaign’s thousands of victims and their families, not those responsible for the abuses.