By EDWIN IYO, NITZ ARANCON,
and JIGGER J. JERUSALEM
GINGOOG City — Authorities yesterday continued efforts to track down a woman who snatched a newborn baby while her mother was asleep inside a birthing home here Sunday.
Col. Ariel Philip Pontillas, Gingoog police director, is personally leading the manhunt, and the search for the kidnapped baby girl.
The kidnapping alarmed city hall that Gingoog Mayor Erick Cañosa offered a P15-thousand reward for anyone with useful information that could result in the baby’s rescue.
Police said they were still facing a blank wall in regard to the motive for the kidnapping. They however managed to come up with a facial composite of the kidnapper based on descriptions given by witnesses.
Police said the kidnapping took place at around 5 am Sunday at the birthing home Puericulture Center in Barangay 16, this city.
The mother, 33-year-old Marichu Villegas of Barangay Pangasihan, this city, gave birth to the baby at the birthing home on Friday night. By Sunday morning, her baby was gone.
Villegas said that when she woke up, she had thought at first that her mother, who watched over her in the ward, took the baby. She and her mother subsequently panicked when they realized the baby was already missing.
Witnesses said the suspected kidnapper, a woman who stands at about 5’5” tall with a regular body built and relatively short hair, wore a medical mask, a black jacket with hood, short pants and short pants. The kidnapper is about 57 to 63 years old.
Pamela Arayan, 19, of Purok Lumbia, Barangay Malinao, Gingoog, said she saw the woman who took the baby. The kidnapper, she said, left the birthing home in a hurry but she did not realize at that time that the infant was being kidnapped.
“The people at the center thought the suspect was just one of the clients there. They did not pay her much attention,” Pontillas said.
One of witnesses, Lemuel Luma, a resident of Barangay Maanas, Medina in Misamis Oriental, told police he had a conversation with the suspect but added that he could not identify her because she wore a medical mask at that time.
Pontillas said a child later told police officers he saw a woman who fit the description of the alleged kidnapper walking on the road in one of the city’s remote villages.
“When the suspect was sighted, she was no longer wearing a face mask. The child also saw the baby inside the bag of the suspect crying. That’s why we were able to make a sketch of her,” Pontillas said.
Police said the suspect was observed by several witnesses to be busy texting outside the center on Friday, and again early Sunday while Villegas was still sleeping.
One of the witnesses said he saw the suspect looking through the screened window of the ward where Villegas and her baby were.
“Ako pud nakita sigi siya text samtang sige galantaw sa katri diin nahimutang ang maong bata nga amo pud gituhuan empleyado ra pud sa maong birthing center,” the witness said.
Investigators said the same woman was seen in the vicinity even shortly before Villegas was brought there.
Villegas and her mother are at a police station giving statements and providing investigators with information at presstime.
She told this paper that she has a common law husband who was working in Surigao del Sur. The kidnapped baby, she revealed, was a result of an affair with another man.
Pontillas said the Gingoog police was closely coordinating with the police stations of nearby municipalities and have set up checkpoints.
Mayor Cañosa, for his part, said he was upset even as he called on the police to give the kidnapping case the priority.
Cañosa also directed barangay officials and members of Gingoog’s disaster risk and reduction management office to help in the search for the kidnapped baby.
“I ask everyone to help find the woman who took the infant,” Cañosa said.
Gingoog city information officer Nicole Managbanag said it was Cañosa who ordered the police to coordinate with the neighboring municipalities and to set up the checkpoints.