Local police in Zamboanga del Norte have elevated the case of five missing illegal loggers in Sirawai to kidnapping after victims' families received a ransom demand from the supposed kidnappers on Monday.
Senior Supt. Raul Tacaca, provincial director of the Zamboanga del Norte Police, said families of the illegal loggers received a phone call from the kidnappers late Monday night initially demanding P10 million for the safe release of their relatives.
But after a few hours of negotiations, the demand dropped to P15,000 for each captive.
The five illegal loggers were travelling on foot towards Sitio Upper Lukungan in the village of Panabutan in Sirawai when they were waylaid by armed men.
The victims were heading to a forested area said to be a stronghold of a lawless group responsible for a series of abductions as well as extortion activities in the Zamboanga Peninsula.
Sirawai Mayor Gamar Janihim said it was the same group that harassed a group of loggers a few years ago and demanded money to get back the power saw and other equipment taken from them.
He said this lawless group has been demanding protection money from illegal loggers over the past few years.
Based on information reaching ABS-CBN Zamboanga, the bandit group is headed by a certain Jamilon Wahab and Bating Lumiguis, both wanted criminals operating in Zamboanga Peninsula.
Janihim said families of the victims are poor and doesn’t have the capability to pay ransom.
The local government also reiterated the no ransom policy in dealing with kidnapping cases.
Janihim said local police and military have launched a joint operation in a bid to safely rescue the victims.
The Sirawai police has also filed criminal charges against the group of Wahab and Lumiguis.