The chief of Regional Public Information Office 9 said in a statement on Saturday that security forces had “brought and turned over to Dipolog City Police Station one Amante Sagario y Bagain, 49 years old, married and a resident of… Balangasan, Pagadian City."
Police Inspector Dahlan Samuddin said the suspect had been positively identified as the owner of a silver Mistubishi van found abandoned following the kidnapping Wednesday of Italian businessman Rolando del Torchio, a former Roman Catholic priest, in Zamboanga del Norte province.
Del Torchio was seized from his pizzeria in Dipolog City by unknown gunmen and dragged into a waiting van Wednesday night, according to police. The van reportedly owned by Sagario was later found abandoned near the coast of Miputak village.
Del Torchio had come to the Philippines in 1988 as a missionary with the Vatican’s Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions in Muslim-majority Sibuco town before moving to Dipolog city in 1996.
Samuddin said Saturday that two of the ten suspects in the kidnapping had been identified based on security camera footage from the restaurant as their faces were clearly visible.
Sagario remains under custody of the Dipolog City Police Station for further investigation.
Authorities have yet to determine whther the suspects are members of kidnapping syndicates operating in the south who hand over their captives to the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group to negotiate for a ransom that, if paid, is shared.
Rear Admiral Primitivo Gopo, commander of regional Joint Task Group Zambasulta, said search and rescue efforts are concentrating on coastal villages of Zamboanga del Norte.
While military units in the island province of Sulu – a known Abu Sayyaf stronghold -- have been alerted, Gopo believes the abductors would have found it difficult to pass through a navy blockade set up earlier.
Missionaries in the Philippines have long been the target of kidnappers, along with tourists, businessman and even foreign birdwatchers.
One of Del Torchio’s colleagues, Fr. Fausto Tentorio, was killed in 2011, private armed guards murdered Fr. Tullio Favali in 1985 and Fr. Salvatore Carzedda was assassinated in Zamboanga in 1992.
In September, three foreigners and a Filipina were abducted from a south Philippines resort.