METRO MANILA, NOVEMBER 22, 2003  (STAR) By Christina Mendez and Cecille Suerte Felipe - As President Arroyo vowed to step up the campaign against kidnappings, armed men abducted a 10-year-old schoolgirl after shooting her nanny and driver in Paco, Manila yesterday morning.

Police said the victim’s driver Hilario Responso and nanny Maricel de Dios were wounded in a hail of bullets after the kidnappers blocked the path of their maroon Honda Civic with license plates UCZ-793 and peppered the vehicle with bullets from automatic weapons.

The victims were on their way to the Saint Peter the Apostle Parish School along Quirino Avenue when the kidnappers struck and shot Responso and De Dios. Both were last reported in critical condition at the Philippine General Hospital.

Initial reports said the armed men fled with the girl on board a green Toyota Revo with license plates WMK-972 toward Taft Avenue.

National Anti-Kidnapping Task Force (Naktaf) spokesman Lt. Gen. Danilo Servando said the license plate of the Revo was traced to a certain Lopuez San Sebastian of San Sebastian street, Bacolod City.

He said the vehicle was reported stolen in Manila three days ago.

Servando said their initial investigation revealed the kidnappers opened fire at the occupants of the car while at the intersection of Zulueta street and Quirino Avenue near the school, whose students are mostly Filipino-Chinese.

Three of the suspects, including a woman who were armed with M-16 rifles and automatic pistols, initially opened fire before forcibly opening the Honda Civic and dragging away the girl to their getaway vehicle.

"It was the woman kidnapper who shot the driver and nanny while the two male (suspects) fired their guns in the air," a police investigator said.

Witnesses added the suspects continued to fire their guns while fleeing with the girl in their attempt to scare off would-be pursuers.

"Efforts are underway to establish contact with the family," Servando said.

He said the police have not monitored any demand for ransom.

The latest kidnapping incident dampened anew government efforts to lick the problem, which some observers said will likely increase as election period approaches.

The kidnapping came a day after the government scored heavily in its anti-kidnapping campaign with the killing of Roberto Yap, a top kidnap for ransom gang leader, and three of his cohorts in Bataan.

The Paco kidnapping was also the third to occur in Metro Manila this week.

On Tuesday, the body of kidnapped local Coca-Cola executive Betti Sy was found stuffed in a trash bag near the seafront along Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard in Parañaque City.

Another Filipino-Chinese was reportedly abducted in Binondo, Manila last Thursday but Servando was not able confirm the incident.

The Chinese-Filipino community has claimed Sy was the 156th kidnap victim in the country so far this year.

They said kidnapping incidents are at a 10-year high, with statistics showing that at least one victim is being kidnapped every three days. Most of the victims are affluent Chinese-Filipinos.

A Slap In The Face

Even as President Arroyo defended her appointment of Angelo Reyes as anti-kidnapping czar, critics described the wave of kidnappings as "a slap in the face" of the former defense chief.

Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) president Donald Dee said the perpetrators behind the series of kidnappings were trying to test the capability of Reyes.

Dee, however, underscored that the rising incidence of kidnapping will impact more on the business community and the economy than the public’s perception of Reyes.

"The real issue here is that our investments are not moving, there is no business expansion because of the kidnapping incidents," Dee said.

The Pilipino Manpower Agencies Accredited to Taiwan (Pilmat) and the Fresh Coconut Exporters Association said the spate of kidnapping incidents is already scaring investors from the country,

"Failure of our police authorities to solve countless kidnappings is certainly hurting our chances of capturing investments from Taiwanese businessmen," Pilmat president Jackson Gan said.

Servando denied the latest kidnapping incident was "a slap in the face" of Reyes. He said it is best not to "speculate at this point."

Western Police District director Chief Superintendent Pedro Bulaong said they are looking into the possibility that the kidnapping was in retaliation for the killing of Yap and his men in Bataan.

"The pattern of kidnapping for ransom is to abduct their victim discreetly to allow them to negotiate for ransom," Bulaong explained.

"In this case, the kidnappers even fired (their guns) in the air before taking the girl," he said.

Bulaong said it was obvious that the kidnappers were trying to convey a message. "Why do they have to shoot the driver and the nanny?" he said. "The commotion defeated the chance for the kidnappers to negotiate for the ransom."

House Minority Leader Nueva Vizcaya Rep. Carlos Padilla said Reyes should focus on how to put a stop on kidnappings.

"Photo opportunities and press releases may be good for publicity but it cannot solve the problem," he said.

Padilla, however, maintained his call for Malacañang to do away with the appointment of Reyes, pointing out that his position as anti-kidnapping czar is "unnecessary" since there are law enforcement agencies that could do the job.

He said the spate of kidnappings indicate the real peace and order condition in the country.

But despite the criticisms, Mrs. Arroyo stood by her decision to appoint Reyes to the post.

"I would like to assure our people, especially the Filipino-Chinese community, that Naktaf headed by Secretary Reyes will be fully committed and relentless in its efforts to contain this threat," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo credited Reyes for the neutralization of Yap’s group following the bloody encounter in Bataan where a policeman was also killed and five other lawmen were injured last Thursday.

The President though wrongfully attributed to Yap and his gang the abduction and killing of Sy, which she announced during her keynote speech Thursday before delegates of the 18th Philippine Advertising Congress in Baguio City. -With reports from Marichu Villanueva, Mayen Jaymalin, Perseus Echeminada, Nestor Etolle

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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