Government troops and police officers have fanned out across the southern Philippines to search for a British businessman and his Filipino wife who were abducted from a beach resort on Friday night, officials said Monday.
A group of six armed men seized Allan Arthur Hyrons, 70, and Welma Paglinawan-Hyrons from the resort in Tukuran, a town in Zamboanga del Sur province, according to authorities.
“Until now, there is no ransom demand,” said Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, the military’s regional leader. “Troops and police have been scouring coastal areas looking for them.”
The couple had recently fired several teachers at a school they own, and “disgruntled relatives of the teachers could have retaliated,” Sobejana said.
Investigators are interviewing people associated with the school but no charges have been filed.
The British Embassy in Manila has not issued any statements so far about the kidnapping.
Four of the six suspects were waiting at the resort for the couple and abducted them as soon as they arrived there, an initial investigation revealed. Two boats that were used in the escape sped off in opposite directions, according to investigators.
Police, meanwhile, released a computer-generated sketch of a person of interest in the abduction, while local officials offered a reward for anyone who could provide information about the victims’ whereabouts.
Maj. Helen Galvez, a local police spokeswoman, said the computer-generated sketch was based on CCTV footage of the abduction.
“A facial composite of one of the persons of interest has been released to the public already to help our police forces in tracking down the suspects and recover the victims safely,” Galvez said.
In Manila, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo described the abduction as an isolated case and assured foreigners that they could visit Zamboanga del Sur safely.
“Sometimes that happens even if there’s martial law. It’s isolated. We cannot avoid that,” Panelo said, adding that tourists should take precautions and avoid places where militants are known to operate in the Philippine south.
The region has been under martial law since 2017 when militants linked to Islamic State (IS) took over the city of Marawi. The militants were flushed out after a five-month battle that left 1,200 fighters and civilians dead.
Muslim militants are known to operate in parts of the southern Philippines where foreigners have been the main victims of abductions.
A month before the latest kidnapping, the U.S. State Department identified the Philippines as one of 35 countries with a “high risk” of kidnapping.
While police have not identified the kidnappers, previous high-profile abductions in the south involving foreigners were blamed on Abu Sayyaf, a group of self-styled Islamic militants.
In recent years, Abu Sayyaf members beheaded two Canadian hostages and a German captive after their governments refused to pay ransom for their release. A Dutch hostage, Ewold Horn, was killed in a rescue attempt by the military in May, seven years after he was snatched with a Swiss national, who escaped after two years in captivity.
Jeoffrey Maitem and Richel V. Umel contributed to this report from Cotabato City and Iligan City, Philippines.