GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/19 Nov) – Kidnappers released unharmed Friday a wealthy businesswoman from South Cotabato province five days after she was abducted by armed men.
Chief Supt. Gil Menses, Region 12 police director, said kidnap victim Grace Eleuterio, 53, was freed by her captors around 10:30 a.m. at a mountainous portion of Bagumbayan town in Sultan Kudarat province.
“She was seen walking alone by some local residents and immediately they alerted our police personnel there about her presence,” he told reporters.
“We’re glad that Grace is now free,” said South Cotabato Gov. Arthur Y. Pingoy Jr. “It’s good news that she’s safe except for minor scratches she suffered from days of walking in the mountains. Our worse fears did not happen,” he added.
The governor commended the police and the military for Eleuterio’s safe recovery.
Meneses did not say whether the victim’s family has paid any ransom for her release, which came hours after the kidnappers supposedly agreed to lower their ransom demand to P1 million. The kidnappers initially relayed to the victim’s family, who owns a grocery store and a fleet of passenger vans, a ransom demand of P200 million but later reduced the amount to P10 million.
South Cotabato boardmember Ervin Luntao, a family friend of the victim, said in a phone interview as of noon Friday that the victim was “safe and sound” when she was found by personnel from the Bagumbayan municipal police station.
“She’s generally alright except for some wounds on her feet caused by the long hours of walking in the mountains,” he said.
At least six heavily-armed men stormed a store and transport terminal owned by the Eleuterio family located in Poblacion in Sto. Niño town around 6 p.m. Sunday and seized Grace.
The terminal is the main base of the Eleuterio-managed Denmark Transport Cooperative, which operates a fleet of passenger vans plying this city and key areas in Sultan Kudarat and South Cotabato provinces.
Witnesses said the suspects opened fired inside the transport terminal, killing one of the employees identified as Melvin Fontillon, 21, and seriously wounded Demostenes Eleuterio, the kidnap victim’s husband.
Meneses said joint police and military units in the area immediately launched pursuit operations against the kidnappers, which were reportedly led by a certain Kumander Toks.
He described the group as a lawless armed group responsible for a string of armed robberies and criminal activities in South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat provinces in the last several years.
Eleuterio was one of the two members of the business community that was kidnapped in the region last Sunday.
Rodolfo Chio, a gasoline station owner, was abducted in Datu Piang in Maguindanao province almost at the same time Eleuterio was snatched last Sunday.
Chio was freed Tuesday evening in Cotabato City allegedly after his family paid ransom money. His kidnappers have demanded P6 million ransom from the family, police said. (Allen V. Estabillo and Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)