A three-year-old grandson of a mayor in the Philippines’ troubled south has been released after being held captive for more than 10 months by an al-Qaeda-linked militant group.
Major Filemon Tan, Western Mindanao Command spokesperson, told reporters Monday that Ace Jay Garban was found in the Muslim majority province of Sulu -- a known Abu Sayyaf stronghold -- after his abduction from the predominantly Christian province of Zamboanga del Sur in March.
“He was spotted walking without companion. Immediately, the person [who saw him] approached the child and brought him to a nearby post at the Jolo Internal Defense Force in Jolo,” Major Filemon Tan said.
Military authorities later transported Ace Jay, the grandson of Pitogo Mayor Richard Garban, to Zamboanga City where he was reunited with his family.
On March 31, he had been playing alongside his two-year-old sister, Zynielle Jay, and a teenage bakery worker when they were seized by gunmen who had failed to abduct their actual target, a businesswoman.
Authorities said the Abu Sayyaf had used the trio as human shields while escaping police.
A month after the incident, Mayor Garban said the kidnappers had sent text messages to the families demanding a ransom of P60 million ($1.34 million).
A fisherman discovered the body of Zynielle floating near the town’s port a few days later, and the teenager escaped their captors in July when the group was surprised by the presence of military troops in Sulu’s Indanan town.
Brig. Gen. Alan Arrojado, Joint Task Group Sulu commander, confirmed Monday that Ace Jay had undergone the appropriate medical check-up.
"He was cleared from any physical injuries however, he was observed to have been traumatized in his captivity," he said in a statement.
It was not disclosed whether a ransom had been paid for the toddler’s release.
Kidnap-for-ransom gangs frequently operate in Zamboanga Peninsula and the island provinces of Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi.
They are known to hand over their captives to the Abu Sayyaf and negotiate for a ransom that, if paid, is shared with the group.
The kidnappers use isolated sea-lanes and coastal areas to grab their victims, who are then held captive in isolated villages in the peninsula.
Since 1991, the Abu Sayyaf -- armed with mostly improvised explosive devices, mortars and automatic rifles -- has carried out bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and extortion in a self-determined fight for an independent Islamic province in the Philippines.
It is notorious for beheading victims after ransoms have failed to have been paid for their release.