ZAMBOANGA CITY -- Police operatives rescued a Chinese-Filipino businessman just few minutes after the victim was seized by five suspected kidnappers in this city on Monday.

Senior Superintendent Edwin de Ocampo, Zamboanga City Police Office (ZCPO) director, identified the rescued victim as Thomas To, 65, who runs a furniture company and other businesses in this city.

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De Ocampo said To was rescued around 10:20 p.m. Monday or barely 20 minutes after he was seized by the suspected kidnappers.

The victim, together with a companion, was aboard a private-owned jeep and about to enter his residence in Waray Drive, Tetuan village when seized by the suspects.

The kidnappers, who forced the businessman to board a waiting utility van, then sped towards Tugbungan village, leaving behind To’s companion, whose identity is withheld for security reasons.

The police said three of the five suspects rode the van holding in To in their custody. The other two were driving motorcycles, one of which served as the lead vehicle, while the other as back-up.

De Ocampo said they immediately set-up a dragnet after To’s companion reported the incident.

He said policemen backed by a patrol car have set-up a checkpoint at Morning Breeze road that connects the villages of Tugbungan and Talon-Talon. The suspects, however, hurriedly turned their vehicles around upon seeing the checkpoint ahead of them.

The suspects were forced to stop and abandon the van and fled on foot towards the mangrove area of Tugbungan village when they saw another police car heading towards them.

The other two motorcycle-riding suspects fled and managed to escape, passing through alleys in between houses along the Morning Breeze area.

“We lost track of the suspects since it was very dark,” De Ocampo said, citing there was no electricity in the area during the incident.

Zamboanga had been experiencing sectional brownouts for the past weeks due to shortage of power supply coming from hydro-electric power plants in Lanao brought about by the El Niño phenomenon.

De Ocampo said they have recovered the white public utility van used by the suspects, adding that the police are now on the process of identifying the vehicle’s owner to unmask the kidnappers’ identities.

The van bore markings on its side, indicating that it ferries passengers in one of the towns in the nearby province of Basilan, De Ocampo said.

He said the suspects’ intention is to bring To to nearby Basilan province, citing they were heading towards the village of Arena Blanco when they intercepted them.

Arena Blanco is a coastal village located nine kilometers east of Zamboanga City and is accessible by sea. (Bong Garcia/Sunnex)