Trader, gas station owner abducted in Sto. Nino, Datu Piang

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/15 November) — Kidnappers struck anew in different parts of Southwestern Mindanao, snatching two victims from the business community and killing one person and wounding another late Sunday afternoon, authorities said Monday.

Mayor Antonio F. Damandaman Sr., of Sto. Nino town in South Cotabato said heavily armed men abducted a prominent businesswoman, Grace Eleuterio, owner of a grocery store and operator of public transport company in the locality, at around 6 p.m. Sunday at the poblacion area.

The kidnappers stormed a store and transport terminal owned by the victim and her husband Demosthenes located in Poblacion in Sto. Niño town at around 6pm Sunday.

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.

Demosthenes was injured when the kidnappers opened fired, while a store helper identified as Melvin Fontillon was killed, Senior Supt. Nilo Wong, South Cotabato police director told reporters.

Mr. Eleuterio was declared out of danger following a medical operation and is recuperating at a hospital in this city, Damandaman said.

Supt. Barney P. Condes, South Cotabato police intelligence division chief, said the getaway car of the kidnappers was recovered in Barangay New Panay, also in Sto. Nino town.

He said that a joint police and military pursuit operation has been launched to rescue Ms. Eleuterio.

Wong said they have dispatched their tracking teams early Monday to the mountainous boundaries of South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat provinces, where the kidnappers reportedly brought the victim.

He said they received confirmation that the victim and the kidnappers, who were armed with M-14 and M-16 rifles and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), were last seen taking off aboard several motorcycles towards a portion of the Daguma Mountain Range in Bagumbayan town in
Sultan Kudarat late Sunday night.

He added they sent a team of police operatives to the vicinity of Barangay Bai Saripinang in Bagumbayan and another one to the boundary of Isulan and Bagumbayan towns to trace the possible location of the kidnappers and their victim.

He said the ongoing operations were spearheaded by Condes and the Police Regional Office 12’s Regional Public Safety Battalion led by Supt. Joel Limson.

He said the tracking teams were being backed by elements from the police maneuver company and the Sto. Niño municipal police station.

Wong refused to speculate on the identity of the suspects and their possible affiliation but local intelligence sources said the incident could be linked to the foiled kidnapping of two Korean nationals in Sto. Niño town in August 2009.

Two of the suspected kidnappers, who failed to get their targets, were killed in an ensuing firefight with responding policemen.

As of noontime Monday, authorities were reportedly closing in on the kidnappers as pursuing operatives recovered several personal belongings of the victim in a remote farming area.

In Datu Piang town in Maguindanao province, armed men also abducted businessman Rodolfo Chio, owner of a gasoline station, said Lt. Col. Benjamin Hao, spokesperson of the 6th Infantry Division.

Soldiers have been dispatched to the Liguasan Marsh where the victim was reportedly brought by the fatigue-clad suspects, Hao said.

While Maguindanao is part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, it is under the jurisdiction of the 6th Infantry Division which provides security to Southwestern Mindanao.

Before Sunday’s kidnappings, kidnap-for-ransom gangs have attacked in Cotabato City, one of the cities in Southwestern Mindanao, prompting calls from the religious and business sectors there to place the city under martial law.

Philippine Marines were eventually deployed in Cotabato City in response to the appeal of the local stakeholders.

In early October, armed men police believed to belong to the Pentagon kidnap-for-ransom gang abducted Filipino-Chinese businesswoman Conchita Tan near her home along Barangay Rosary Heights in Cotabato City.

The two bodyguards of Tan, wife of local wealthy businessman Lucio Tan, were killed when they fought the kidnappers, police said. The Tans own LCT Hardware in the area.

She was eventually released after her family allegedly paid a hefty ransom.

In August, the kidnapping of another Chinese-Filipino trader shocked the business sector in Cotabato City.

Nelson Tay, who was snatched in his store along a busy street by armed men posing as soldiers, was released days later after paying “board and lodging fees,” a euphemism for ransom payment. (Allen V. Estabillo and Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)