Gunmen abduct Italian ex-priest in Dipolog City
Roel Pareño ( - October 8, 2015 - 12:43am

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines - Unidentified gunmen abducted a former Italian priest at a pizza café Wednesday night in Dipolog City, Zamboanga del Norte, according to security official.

The victim was identified as Rolando del Torchio, 56, owner of Ur Choice Pizza Café, said Navy Captain Roy Vincent Trinidad, deputy commander of Joint Task Force Zambasulta.

Dennis Baguio, Zamboanga del Norte provincial governor’s technical staff, said the victim was a former missionary of the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions (PIME) who was previously assigned in some areas of the province and Cebu during the 90’s before he left the priesthood and started a pizza business in Dipolog City.

Police investigation showed that Torchio was abducted by ten unidentified armed men speaking in Tagalog and Muslim about 6:30 p.m. inside his pizza café located along Quezon Avenue, Barangay Miputak.

“Four of the suspects, who pretended as customers, went inside the pizza house and ordered pizza,” Baguio said.

Other suspects later entered the restaurant and seized Torchio who was seated at his computer table near the cashier.

“There was a struggle and commotion as the victim, who is a 6-footer, resisted and tried to fight back,” according to Baguio.

The suspects later dragged the victim into the white getaway van with another green back-up van and proceeded to the boulevard also in Barangay Miputak, according to Trinidad.

Trinidad said the suspects abandoned their vehicle and transferred the victim into a motorized pumpboat that headed towards the coastal areas of the third district of the province.

Police report showed that Torchio had been a target by kidnap for ransom group when he was still an active priest.

Police Senior Superintendent Romulo Cleve Taboso, Police Regional Office 9 (PRO) operations’ chief, said they were looking at possible involvement of known local personalities in the abduction.

He said they are investigating the footage of the suspects captured by the closed-circuit television (CCTV) inside the pizza café.

Taboso believed that the perpetrators could be the same local group that abducted the barangay chairman of Aliguay Island in Dapitan City last May 2015, who was turned over to a bigger group in Sulu for ransom.

Meanwhile, Trinidad said police and military units were deployed to conduct round-the-clock checkpoint operations in all chokepoints along national highways under the area of responsibility of the 101st Brigade.

According to Trinidad, troops immediately conducted pursuit operations utilizing two speedboats of the Army's Special Forces, including a pump boat and speedboat of the 21st Infantry Battalion (IB) to intercept the perpetrators in the coastal areas southwest of Zamboanga del Norte.

The 3rd Air Division also dispatched 2 UH-1H helicopters from Jolo, Sulu to fly over the coast towards the third district of Zamboanga del Norte. 

Trinidad said the Naval Forces Western Mindanao also conducted search and rescue operations at the coastal areas while the police maritime command carried out inspection on all ports and finger wharfs in the area.

The military said intelligence units were tasked to monitor possible safe houses of the abductors in the province.

Zamboanga del Norte Gov. Roberto Uy and Dipolog City Mayor Evelyn Uy meanwhile convened a crisis management committee and activated a Task Force "Rolando" to help in the early resolution of the abduction.

“Governor Uy condemned the abduction and urged the authorities for the speedy and safe recovery of the victim,” said Baguio. 

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