Kidnapped trader rescued in Hollywood-like op in Philippines

A 59-year-old businessman who was abducted and tortured in a kidnap-for-ransom case was rescued on Thursday by agents of the National Bureau of Investigation in front of a popular drugstore in Pangasinan province in an operation likened to a Hollywood thriller.

NBI Director Virgilio Mendez said the businessman was seized in broad daylight in the parking lot of a supermarket in Lipa City, Batangas province, on Friday for a P30-million (S$1 million) ransom.

"The abduction was well planned and the negotiations through cell phones were conducted in various cities and provinces to avoid being traced and to confuse authorities engaged in surveillance," Mendez said.

He said the kidnappers belonging to a well-funded and organised syndicate used fancy cars and changed vehicles several times to evade NBI agents on their trail.

Mendez said that the information about the kidnapping came from a government official who was approached by a priest known to the family of the victim, whose identity was withheld for security reasons.

Brief scuffle

The director said details about the abduction were gathered mostly from closed-circuit television of various establishments and cell phone locators.

Two of the kidnappers who also served as the guards of the victim were arrested in the NBI operation led by lawyer Max Salvador and Assistant Regional Director Rommel Vallejo.

"They were armed and physically fit, but after a brief scuffle the suspects surrendered," Vallejo said. "No one was hurt."

Vallejo said the kidnappers tried to confuse the trackers, putting calls for their ransom demand of P30 million from various places in Quezon City and Pangasinan, Samar and Batangas provinces.

He said the NBI team finally tracked down the kidnappers as the victim, a diabetic, was buying medicine at a popular drugstore in Mangatarem, Pangasinan.

"Due to the ongoing ransom negotiations, the victim had to be kept in good health and had to drink his daily dose of medicine. To buy the regulated medicine, the victim had to be present when buying it and that's where we traced him," Vallejo explained.

"The suspects had money and good plans and it was not also easy to track them," Vallejo said.

Ransom demand

He said that the two men arrested were undergoing questioning, while other members of the syndicate were being hunted.

The victim, who agreed to be interviewed by the Inquirer on the condition that he would not be named, said he was in the parking area of a supermarket and was about to board his vehicle when he was taken at gunpoint by three men.

"It was so fast, they immediately handcuffed me and told me it's all about money. You will not be killed if your family will pay the ransom," he said, quoting the kidnappers.

The victim said that on the first three days of his captivity he was still upbeat that he would be freed after his family agreed to pay the ransom.

"On the fourth day of my captivity and after the raising of the ransom money was delayed I was already losing hope that I would get out alive," the victim said.

Cigarette burns

He said he was held captive for almost a week and was tortured to force him to scream pain when he talked to his wife as proof of life.

"I was already losing hope and I was so shocked when the NBI agents suddenly appeared and rescued me and arrested two of my abductors," he said.

The victim showed cigarette burns on his upper arms. He said he was handcuffed with his hands behind his back and fed only once-a sandwich given to him the night he was taken.

"We travelled the whole time, only stopping when they changed vehicles. The whole time I was in handcuffs on the car's floor," he said. He said that on the second day, two of his captors removed their masks as a gesture of goodwill.

"They told me they were really bad people, but wanted to change and the money they would get from my ransom would be their capital for a new life."

 

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