Police link Cotabato City V. Mayor Sema, councilor to kidnappings

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/04 February)— Former Cotabato City mayor and now Vice Mayor Muslimin G. Sema and a councilor are allegedly involved in the series of kidnappings in the locality, the regional Philippine National Police command based here said on Friday.

Chief Supt. Gil Meneses, Southwestern Mindanao police director, said they had requested the inclusion of Sema in an amended kidnapping complaint along with more than a dozen suspects.

Another suspected kidnapper was identified as city Councilor Sukarno Sema, a nephew of the vice mayor, the police official added in a radio interview.

Meneses said that authorities have in their custody seven suspects, who were recently arrested at a checkpoint in this city, and that pursuit operations are ongoing against several other suspected kidnappers.

Chief Insp. Jomar Yap, Southwestern Mindanao police spokesperson, said that the local prosecutor has recommended the filing of kidnapping charges against the Semas based on the information and evidences gathered by the police.

“As I understand it, the case against him [Sema] was filed but the judge inhibited himself apparently for security reasons,” Yap told MindaNews.

Yap said that special prosecutor Al Calica will handle the kidnapping case and would seek the transfer of the trial possibly to a court in General Santos City.

The two Cotabato City officials were allegedly involved in the spate of kidnapping incidents in Cotabato City since last year, the police spokesperson said.

Lawyer Omar Sema told Catholic-owned dxMS the vice mayor and the councilor “are not yet considered accused but just suspects” of kidnapping.

Including the two local officials in the kidnapping charge sheet has “no basis,” the lawyer said, adding that they already filed a motion to oppose the amended information sheet.

Cotabato City was marred anew by a series of kidnapping cases victimizing Chinese-Filipino businessmen starting in the second half of 2010.

In early October, armed men abducted Filipino-Chinese businesswoman Conchita Tan near her home along Barangay Rosary Heights.

The two bodyguards of Tan, a 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, a kidnapping on 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.

Their abduction triggered calls from the business and religious sector to strengthen security measures in the locality, eventually resulting to the deployment of a battalion of Philippine Marines in the area.

But even with the augmentation of Marines, kidnappers struck anew last January, abducting a Chinese-Filipino businessman outside the city’s premier hotel.

Eulogio Ading Lim Yu, 56, owner of Yuking Guan Trading, had just emerged from the casino of the Estosan Hotel when snatched by armed men.

His wife escaped abduction after running back to the hotel as shown by a close circuit television camera. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)