Stories of alleged kidnapping incidents in some areas of Pasay City and Quezon City have circulated on social media last week, casting fear and alarm.
This prompted local officials to look into the unverified reports and assure the public that their cities are safe.
Nine missing residents aged 15 to 23 years old have been reported in Pasay City between November 20 and 22.
They were identified as John Samuel Esguerra, 19; Niña Jane Ignacio, 19; Reine Louisse de Ocampo, 15; Kojie Marquez, 16; Norealle Butiong, 21; Gil Josh Ramirez, 18; Leogee Tiposo, 23; Roujen Serban, 21; and Sebastian Montoya, 22.
City Police Chief Bernard Yang soon formed a special task group to investigate the disappearances. So far, the cases are still under investigation. Yang also noted that none of the victims is on the drug watch list.
Testimonies and claims on Twitterverse, meanwhile, point to more sinister version of the incidents.
Some said that the number of disappearances have reached 20.
“This week at least 9 youths went missing in Pasay. Nobody noticed the trend because people were only using social media to report it. Now people are saying the number might be 20,” one Twitter user said.
Nobody is talking about the MISSING YOUTHS OF MANILA. This week at least 9 youths went missing in Pasay. Nobody noticed the trend bc people were only using social media to report it. Now ppl are saying the number might be 20. It’s a crazy story that needs international attention. pic.twitter.com/2UUtmStfOM
— trinnie 🇵🇭🇹🇭🇲🇾🇻🇳 (@mixielot) November 27, 2019
Others purported the disappearances were the doing of a crime syndicate that abducts people and sells their organs for money.
There are also Twitter threads that warn on what to do if they felt they were being followed.
“If you feel na may sumusunod sayo, bothered and unsafe move as fast as you can and just go with the crowd, huwag mo hahayaang mag solo ka in the streets or nasa malayong pagitan ng mga tao,” Twitter user @_heeljoseph said.
PLEASE BE MINDFUL OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS ⚠️
I'm from Makati pero mas maraming connection in Pasay and totoo siya, yung WHITE NA VAN. 3 straight days na may nakuha sa Pasay, matanda at bata as in wala silang pinipili basta vulnerable ka. Nagsalita narin si Emi Calixto dito.
— 𝒄𝒂𝒓𝒍𝒐 (@_heeljoseph) November 27, 2019
Pasay Mayor Emi Calixto-Rubiano ordered Yang to strengthen police visibility and put up checkpoints in different parts of the city.
LOOK: Ipinag-utos ni Mayor Emi Calixto-Rubiano kay Pasay Chief of Police Col. Bernard Yang ang paglalagay ng mga Check…
The Philippine National Police, meanwhile, encouraged possible witnesses of the alleged kidnapping to come forward.
“Kung mayroon mang ganitong insidente ay mangyayari na dumulog agad sa pinakamalapit na himpilan ng pulisya upang maimbestigahan at para magkaroon ng basis ang information,” said poliice spokesperson Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac.
White van abductions a hoax?
Videos of teenagers being kidnapped by men in white vans also circulated on social media.
These are similar to stories of youth abductions in the past, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian pointed out, and had since become an “urban legend.”
The senator recalled rumors of teenagers and children being kidnapped to steal their organs and sell them from 2010 to 2013.
“It might be a resurgence of this practical joke,” Gatchalian said.
One viral video clip which recently made rounds more than a thousand times on Facebook turned out to be a prank by the group of teenagers involved.
Banac later disproved these posts and warned users that they could be liable for violating the Cybercrime Prevention Act.
“Nais po natin pabulaanan ang mga kumakalat na fake news na ito. Wala pa pong basehan at hindi ito validated,” he said.
Likewise, Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte also asked her constituents to avoid sharing unverified information online.
“I urge our citizens to stop spreading unconfirmed news because you are causing unnecessary panic. Meanwhile if you have first-hand information about any such incident, please report this ASAP to our QCPD or/and to me for immediate action,” Belmonte said on Facebook.