A HOSTAGE was killed in the crossfire as troops launched pursuit operations to rescue five timber cutters kidnapped in the province of Zamboanga del Norte, the police said Thursday, March 8.

Chief Inspector Helen Galvez, Police Regional Office-Zamboanga Peninsula information officer, said the firefight ensued as the troops caught the kidnappers at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at Sitio Kabatunayan, Panabutan village, Sirawai town, Zamboanga del Norte.

Galvez said the troops recovered a caliber .30 M1 Garand rifle and a caliber .45 pistol with ammunition from the clash site.

The police official added that around 10 kidnappers figured in Thursday’s clash with pursuing policemen and troops from the Army’s 42nd Infantry Battalion.

Galvez identified the slain hostage as Mario Rosales alias Mario Ungok, 46, a resident of San Nicolas, Sirawai.

She said Rosales was positively identified by his employer, Tata Subebe, a resident of San Vicente, this town.

Rosales was one of the five timber cutters from San Nicolas, who were reported missing on Monday, March 5.

The four others were the following: Roger Jung-an, 36; Jomar Maglangit, 26; Reymond Purisima, 14; and Jomar Mantangan, 25 all residents of San Nicolas village.

They went to Sitio Maasum in the village of San Nicolas on March 3 to cut timber but failed to return home since then.

Galvez said that two days later, the kidnappers have demanded P10 million in exchange for the release of the victims.

She said the kidnappers used the cellular phone of one of the five victims and relayed the ransom demand at 10:30 a.m. Monday, March 5, to Jojo Ebalde, a chainsaw operator.

She said the ransom demand was lowered later to P75,000 or at P15,000 for each hostage when the kidnappers made the second call on the same day.

Sirawai Mayor Gamar Janihim convened the Crisis Management Committee (CMC) to find solution to the kidnapping.

Galvez said the CMC was able to identify the leaders of the kidnappers as Jamilon Wahab and Bating Lumiguis, whose group operates in the hinterlands of Sirawai and in nearby areas.

She said that policemen and soldiers were deployed as blocking forces in the possible escape route of the kidnappers while pursuit operations continue in a bid to rescue the remaining four hostages. (SunStar Philippines)