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Former priest abducted in Dipolog

DIPOLOG (AsiaNews) : Unknown gunmen seized Rolando del Torchio, a former member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, in Dipolog City, Zamboanga del Norte, on October 10, where he owned the Ur Choice Bistro Café.

Initial police reports indicate that six or seven gunmen, posing as customers, entered the café and forced del Torchio to go with them. 

Witnesses said he was dragged like a dog toward a large vehicle that sped off toward the coast.

“We were all scared and we just dropped to the floor,” a female staff member at the café said.

Police say the group then switched to a speedboat and fled.

There are several guerrilla groups operating in Mindanao, some of which are engaged in talks with the government, but others abduct foreigners or locals for ransom.

Father Giovanni Re said that there is no conflict between Muslims and Christians in Dipolog and that he believes the abduction is more likely to be linked with ransom demands than politics.

Fifty-seven-year-old del Torchio is from Angera in Italy. He was ordained a priest in 1984 and worked in Naples for a few years prior to going to Mindanao.

He had worked in the parish of Sebuco, not far from where he was kidnapped.

In 2001, he asked to live away from the parish, but remained in Zamboanga del Norte. He later left the priesthood.

A surveyor by profession, he taught local farming people how to demarcate their land and how to form cooperatives.

He was also known for his strong defence of the rights of farmers and tribal people against landowners both before and after he left the priesthood, often putting his own life at risk.

He is described as a person of great sensitivity, practical skills, intuitive and resourceful.

Del Torcio was a colleague of Father Fausto Tentorio, who was murdered in 2011. Two other missionaries have been killed on the island. Private armed guards murdered Father Tullio Favali in Tulunan, Kidapawan, in 1985.

Father Salvatore Carzedda was involved in dialogue with Muslim people and was assassinated in Zamboanga in 1992.

Father Luciano Benedetti was kidnapped in 1998 by a Muslim group, but released after about two months. A splinter group from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front seized Father Giancarlo Bossi in 2007, but released him two months later.