MANILA, Oct. 9, 2015 — A Catholic bishop is asking the faithful to pray for the safe return of an Italian former priest who was taken by gunmen in Southern Philippines.
Police authorities said they have already identified at least two of the seven gunmen behind the abduction of Rolando Del Torchio, a former missionary of the Vatican’s Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME).
Chief Insp. Ryan Hernandez of the Zamboanga Del Norte Provincial Police Office said the suspects were identified by some witnesses from the police rouge gallery that were shown to them.
He said based on the gallery, the two suspects have pending cases of kidnapping, murder, extortion, and illegal possession of firearms.
Without giving names, Hernandez also said they have also identified the criminal group to which the principal suspects belong.
Dipolog Bishop Severo Caermare said they are in coordination with the authorities, as he lauded the efforts done by the local government, police, and the military.
“More importantly, I humbly ask everyone to please pray and collaborate for his safety and immediate release,” Caermare said.
Ordained a priest in 1984, he worked in Naples for a few years and was then sent to the Philippines in 1990 where he was assigned as parochial vicar of the Holy Cross Parish in Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte.
As a missionary, he founded the Farmers Training Cooperative Center, a non-governmental organization that helped local farmers.
AFP, PNP units
Dispensed from the priesthood in 1996, he chose to remain in Dipolog and put up a restaurant where he was abducted.
The PIME said Del Torchio left the priesthood “for personal reasons.” Some confreres described him as “a person of great sensitivity and practical skills, intuitive and resourceful.”
Torchio was abducted on Wednesday evening by still unidentified gunmen and was forced into a waiting van by the gunmen who proceeded to the city boulevard that is less than a kilometer away, then escaped in a pump boat towards an unknown direction.
Hernandez believes the kidnappers have not yet fully left the peninsula, noting that the waters surrounding Zamboanga are still rough, making it difficult for them sail farther.
The police official added this is aside from the fact that the coastal areas are heavily guarded by seaborne patrol being conducted by the Maritime Group of the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Hernandez added other PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) units are also patrolling the nearby Zamboanga Peninsula coastline.
“Our main effort and concentration is to run after the abductors and safely rescue the victim,” Hernandez said. (R. Lagarde with reports from AHV / CBCPNews)