(Photo courtesy of CIDG)

MANILA – Members of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) dismantled a kidnapping syndicate whose members are transgenders.

In a press briefing at Camp Crame, Quezon City on Tuesday, CIDG director Brig. Gen. Ronald Lee identified the suspects as Francis Villa, Lawrenza Lingo, Johnas Belonio, Bernard Torres and Mark Joseph Pelonio, all members of the "Warla" kidnapping group.

They were nabbed in a joint operation with the PNP Anti-Kidnapping Group, National Capital Region Police Office and military troops on Oct. 1.

Lee said the modus of the group is to lure victims from dating apps and sites to meet up with their good-looking members.

Once abducted, the victims are brought to their safehouse and the suspects demand money from them in exchange for their release.

After receiving the ransom, the suspects drop off the victims in random places around Metro Manila.

The group is said to be operating in the southern part of Metro Manila, specifically in Parañaque, Pasay, Taguig, and Makati and has victimized around 14 persons.

They were able to collect total ransom money amounting to PHP4.2 million which will be used for their sex reassignment surgery or “sex change”.

Lee said the group was made known to the police after Taiwanese victim Michael Lee was rescued on Sept. 7 in Parañaque City, after he was abducted on Sept. 3.

The kidnapping group demanded a sum of money from the victim’s friends in exchange for his freedom. The victim’s friends were able to send money to five different digital wallets reaching a total of PHP308,000.

“For the longest time that I have been in anti-kidnapping operations, this is the first time we have encountered this group of transgenders who have already victimized 14 people. We are still backtracking to find out who they are and fortunately, Michael Lee complained and sought the help of the Taiwan police so that was the breakthrough in this case,” Lee said in Filipino.

Lee said the kidnapping group is led by a certain Mikey Ebol, a.k.a Mike Collado Ebol, who is now hiding.

After trailing transactions of the group, the police located four other suspects who had already surrendered -- Dewie Shaine Collado Garcia, Charlemagne Olunan Vargas and Christian Paredes.

In their statements, they said the SIM (subscriber identity module) cards they owned were bought by Ebol.

During the investigation, Lee said the group was formed in 2018.

Col. Hansel Marantan, CIDG National Capital Region field unit director, said the name of the group was coined from the gay lingo “warlalu” which means “let's get it on, let's go to war”.

“They will post themselves as beautiful women on Facebook to lure their prey. And that's it, once the victims are kidnapped, they will start negotiations like asking for PHP500,000 and the span of negotiations is very short. It takes only about three to four days and they use GCash as an avenue for the collection of money which is very hard to trace," he added.

Further probe revealed that the group is involved in the illegal sale of firearms.

The PNP-AKG filed kidnapping charges against Ebol and his cohorts before the Department of Justice on Sept. 12.

Meanwhile, continuous manhunt operations are being conducted to track the whereabouts of Ebol, and his other members Lexi Villanueva, Jaine Martinez, Hector Magallanes a.k.a. “Yanyan”, Erwin Flores a.k.a. “Marga”, and Matthew San Diego.

Aside from the kidnapping raps, arrested persons will be charged with the violation of RA 10591 or the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Law. (PNA)