A FORMER Italian priest was abducted on Wednesday evening by at least seven unidentified gunmen from a pizzeria he owns in Dipolog City, Zamboanga Del Norte, a police official said on Thursday.
The incident is the fourth reported kidnapping of a foreigner in just two weeks in the region.
“One Italian national named Rolando del Torquio was abducted by unidentified suspects on board a white van. They were monitored to have transferred to a motorized banca that departed towards Manukan town in Zamboanga del Norte,” Captain Roy Trinidad, a military spokesman, told The Manila Times.
Del Torchio, 56, is a former member of the Pontificio Instituto Missioni Estere and was deployed in Zamboanga del Norte.
He said the kidnappers are believed to be heading to Jolo town in the Sulu Archipelago and that security forces have been alerted in the area.
“It is believed the kidnappers will travel westward towards Jolo passing the towns of Sindangan, Siocon and Sirawai,” Trinidad said.
Dipolog City Police chief Supt. Ranie Hachuela said in a report that four of the kidnappers posed as customers of the Ur Choice Bistro Cafe in Barangay Miputak, which the victim owns.
Del Torchio, 56, has just left the counter when the suspects barged in, took him and forced him into a waiting van. The kidnappers escaped towards the city boulevard that is less than a kilometer away.
Hachuela said the suspects then bundled the former Italian priest onto a waiting speedboat and sped away.
The police official said that a jacket, sunglasses and the cardboard boxes that were used by the gunmen in concealing their weapons were recovered from the pizza parlor.
Hachuela firmly believes that the gunmen and the Italian priest are still within the city limits noting that the sea was very rough at the time of the abduction, making it difficult for any sea craft to travel.
The police official added that the police and military immediately launched a pursuit operation to rescue Del Torchio.
Insp. Dahlan Samuddin, acting public information officer of the Western Mindanao Police Office, said in a separate report that Dipolog Mayor Evelyn Uy has convened a crisis management task group to negotiate for Del Torchio’s safe release.
Police officials said that Del Torchio was born in the town of Angera in northern Italy and was ordained a priest in 1984.
In 1988, he was assigned to Sibuco town in Zamboanga del Norte where he stayed until 1996, when he moved to Dipolog.
As the search for Del Torchio continues, authorities are also still searching for Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall; and Norwegian Kjartan Sekkingstad, and Filipina Maritess Flor who were taken by suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits from the upscale Holiday Oceanview Samal Resort on Samal Island off Davao del Norte province.
WITH ANTHONY VARGAS and FERNAN MARASIGAN