TAGUM CITY—A former mayor of a Surigao del Sur town was freed Thursday after his family paid ransom to a group of armed men led by a militiaman, according to the town’s incumbent mayor.
Vicente Pimentel, mayor of Carrascal, Surigao del Sur, said the family of Victor Tan, 67, engineer and former mayor of the town, paid ransom for his release.
“I’m not sure about the exact amount of ransom paid but it is more or less P20 million,” said Mayor Pimentel, who was also the source of a report that the kidnappers had been demanding P70 million in ransom from Tan’s family.
Mayor Pimentel said the ransom payment was disappointing as it ran counter to his policy of no ransom or negotiations with kidnappers.
Superintendent Martin Gamba, spokesperson of the Caraga police, said in a text message that Tan was freed around 10 a.m. somewhere in the town of Lanuza also in Surigao del Sur.
Gamba said Tan was fetched by a driver and some relatives.
Authorities tagged a certain Jumwel Mahinay as the leader of the armed group that kidnapped Tan.
Johnny Pimentel, governor of Surigao del Sur, said Mahinay was a former communist guerrilla who became a member of the Special Citizen Armed Auxiliary (SCAA), a militia that the military is maintaining to fight communist and Moro guerrillas in some of the country’s remotest places.
Gov. Pimentel said pursuit operations had been launched against the group of Mahinay although negotiations had also been given a go signal for the safe release of Tan, former mayor of Carrascal town in Surigao del Sur.
The governor said the group of Mahinay had been in contact with Tan’s family.
Mayor Pimentel said the kidnappers have links with a politician that the mayor refused to identify.
Gov. Pimentel, however, said the kidnappers are also involved in extortion rackets and highway robberies in the province.
The governor said after Mahinay left the communist underground movement, he joined the SCAA under the Army’s 36th Infantry Battalion.
Mahinay, the governor said, fled the 36th Infantry Battalion camp and took his government-issued Armalite rifle with him.
SCAAs are militias that are trained by the military and employed by private firms as security forces.
Gamba, the Caraga police spokesperson, said police had coordinated with Tan’s family but it was clear that the New People’s Army, the communist guerrilla army, has no hand in the kidnapping.
Tan was seized around 9 a.m. on Monday by at least eight armed men while supervising a project of his construction firm in Lanuza town, also in Surigao del Sur.
It was the second time Tan, who had served as Carrascal mayor for over a decade, was kidnapped.
In 1997, NPA rebels also seized him as he was overseeing a construction project in Lianga town. The rebels freed Tan unharmed after keeping him in captivity for several months.
Major Eugenio Julio Osias IV, spokesperson of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division based in Cagayan de Oro City, said soldiers had been on standby should police request for Army help in hunting down Tan’s kidnappers.
The group of Mahinay is believed to be holed up in the mountains of Lanuza town.
“Police are the lead. We will give them support if they need it,” said Osias. Frinston L. Lim and Bobby Lagsa, Inquirer Mindanao