THE 500,000-strong Chinese community in Metro Manila has stepped up personal security following a sudden acceleration in kidnap-for-ransom cases involving ethnic Chinese over the last two months. A total of 25 people have been kidnapped in 13 separate incidents, a sharp increase from the January-May period, when a lull in kidnappings kindled hope that President Fidel Ramos was getting law and order under control. Kidnap victims' representatives, negotiating privately with gangs, contrary to police advice, have paid nearly 50 million pesos (HK$14.9 million) in ransom over the eight-week period, according to the Manila Chinatown-based Citizens Action Against Crime Committee. Committee spokeswoman, Professor Teresita Ang See, said the highest kidnap payout was 10 million pesos for an unidentified Cubao woman and the lowest were two amounts for four million pesos each. ''I understand that there were also other secret payments for unrevealed kidnappings,'' she said. Senator Anna ''Nikki'' Coseteng, who heads the Movement for Restoration of Peace and Order, a non-profit group that tabulates kidnap cases, said the number of kidnappings was much higher than the official figures indicated. She said the President's Anti-Crime Commission Taskforce Habagat (Lightning Storm), which focuses on kidnappings, did not classify a case as a kidnapping unless a ransom was demanded. She added that it was not only people who were seized. Luxury goods were also sometimes held for ransom. ''Last Christmas, when the police had pay problems, there was a rash of goods-for-ransom kidnappings,'' Senator Coseteng said. ''Corrupt policemen are both the masterminds and the enforcers of the kidnap-for-ransom rackets and they are effective because they have inside knowledge of police procedures and standing orders,'' she said. Professor Ang See added: ''The Chinese are wary of the police because some of the more pedestrian police units have botched previous attempts to negotiate for the release of hostages.'' The kidnap rings, often equipped with high-powered weapons and high performance technology and cars, are so well-organised that one group remitted its ransom payment to a Hong Kong mailing address, Professor Ang See said. The Metro Manila Chinese community will next month host a national conference of young Chinese from every centre in the Philippines at which the resurging kidnappings will be a priority item. Young people also figure prominently in a loosely formed Metro Manila ''protection service'' in which highly-skilled Chinese members of gun clubs and sporting associations, backed by the Philippine law enforcement agencies, act as a watchdog for the Chinese community.