GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/17 November) – Kidnappers of a businesswoman from Sto. Nino town in South Cotabato have demanded a P10-million ransom in exchange for the safe release of the victim, officials said Wednesday.
Sto. Nino Mayor Antonio Damandaman confirmed that the kidnappers of Grace Eleuterio, who was seized by a group of armed men in their town early Sunday evening, have made initial contact with her family to relay the ransom demand.
He said the kidnappers reportedly demanded an initial ransom of P200 million but later lowered the amount to P10 million.
“They (kidnappers) made several calls to the family and the latest was regarding a P10-million ransom for the release of Mrs. Eleuterio,” Damandaman said.
But the mayor said a member of the Eleuterio family immediately told the kidnappers that they could not raise such amount due to financial difficulties.
He said the family could not decide on the matter as of the moment since their patriarch, Demosthenes Eleuterio, is still in critical condition after sustaining three gunshot wounds in his abdomen during the daring abduction of his wife.
Damandaman said Demosthenes was transferred Tuesday from a private hospital in Koronadal City to another facility in Davao City due to the latter’s worsening condition.
At least six heavily armed men stormed a store and transport terminal owned by the Eleuterio family located in Poblacion in Sto. Niño town at around 6pm Sunday and seized Grace.
The terminal is the main base of the Elueterio-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 fire inside the transport terminal, killing one of the employees identified as Melvin Fontillon and seriously wounding Demosthenes.
South Cotabato board member Ervin Luntao confirmed the reported ransom demand and the contact between the kidnappers and the Eleuterio family saying he was able to personally speak with the victim on one occasion.
Luntao, who is a former mayor of Sto. Nino town, said Grace told him she was in good condition and was treated well by her captors.
Maj. Dante Darmillo, executive officer of the 46th Infantry Battalion, said the victim’s family confirmed to them the P10-million ransom demand and the ongoing contact between them and the kidnappers.
He said they advised them to continue with the contact and pursue the negotiations with the kidnappers.
“The family is having difficulty raising the ransom demand but they initially promised (the kidnappers) to try their best to generate the demanded amount. But this is still under negotiation,” Darmillo said.
The Army official cited that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is strictly following the government’s no-ransom policy but he stressed that they were considering the safety of the kidnap victim.
As of noon Wednesday, he said the joint search and rescue operations earlier launched by the AFP and police units in the area were still continuing and they already sealed off the possible areas where the kidnappers brought their victim.
He said the ongoing operations are centered at the mountainous boundary of Barangays Titulok and Busok in Bagumbayan, where the kidnappers and their captive were reportedly last seen late Sunday.
“Their movements are very limited right now and I think they have not gotten far from the area,” he added. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)