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Article by Marc Aupiais
No ransom was paid for the recent release of +- 79 year old Irish Missionary Priest, Father Michael Sinnot, of the Society of Saint Columbans, despite a Two Million ( 2 000 000 ) US Dollar Ransom initially being demanded by militant hostage takers, who took the priest hostage, while he was on an evening walk in his garden on October 11th 2009. The priest firstly greeted reporters at a military base, prior flying off to meet Philippine President Gloria Arroyo.
The priest thanked all who had caused his release, and those who had prayed for him during the ordeal. Possibly, this could be in reference to inter-faith protests, involving Catholics and Muslims, asking for his release, and other activities such as prayer vigils, which the Vatican's missionary news agency: Agenzia Fides, claims were conducted during his captivity.
PRIEST FREED, REBELS CLAIM TO HAVE NEGOTIATED FOR HIM
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (acronym: MILF), which was initially a suspect in the hostage taking, still denies any involvement. Almost immediately after the kidnapping, the group offered to help find and free the priest, using their resources.
It is the MILF, who eventually delivered the missionary to Philippine military authorities at Zamboanga, denying involvement in the kidnapping. The other major suspect for the hostage taking, which involved a heavy civilian vehicle, and a small speed boat, was Abi Sayyaf, founded in 1990, it is one of the smallest, and most violent of the separatist rebel groups. According to the BBC, it is blamed for a recent bomb attack, an attack on a ferry- in which about one hundred human beings, died.
FR MICHAEL SINNOT CLAIMED THAT MILF COMMANDERS WERE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE KIDNAPPING, BUT THAT THEY WERE NO LONGER UNDER THE REBEL GROUP'S CENTRAL CONTROL- THE MILF CLAIM THEY USED RELATIVES TO CONVINCE HOSTAGE TAKERS TO RELEASE THE CATHOLIC MISSIONARY PRIEST:
Fr Michael's short press release, however clears Abi Sayyaf, implicating a group of MILF commanders on the ground, who he has suggested: in his perspective, were no longer under the control of the MILF leadership.
MILF leadership have recently entered conflict resolution talks with the government once again, peace talks, which had been suspended after attacks on Christians settling in the South. The attacks, which had claimed a relatively large amount of civilian lives, had also reportedly displaced about half a million (+- 5 00 000) people, sixty percent (60%) of whom have yet to leave shelters.
The MILF, however is keeping mum about who committed the kidnapping of the missionary, saying only that they used moral bargaining, via the kidnappers' relatives, and effectively denying any involvement, and any link whatsoever with kidnappers.
Whether or not co-incidental, the release is just prior a visit planned by United States (USA) Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton. The United States has previously been accused of helping to aid the Philippine government in their civil war with Islamic Separatists, who desire their own Islamic state in the Southern part of the largely Catholic Philippines. The MILF, estimated to consist of about Twelve Thousand (+-12 000) militants: have been in conflict with the government since 1978.
WITH NO RANSOM TO OFFER, THE MILF USED "MORAL BARGAINING"
Neither the Irish government, nor the Philippine government were prepared to pay any ransom, nor was the order the priest belonged to. The Irish Foreign Minister Michael Martin said that it would have put other Irish lives in danger to pay any ransom for the priest. Hostage situations of this sort, are increasingly being sorted out, via persons in the actual communities where hostage takers live, such as tribal leaders, or rebel groups, should these have an interest in having hostages freed. Recently, religious who were kidnapped in Somalia, were released, with the help of local tribal authorities, with moral standing in their own people's eyes.
It had been feared that Fr Michael Sinnot, could die of shock, due to a heart surgery he had had just a few years ago, and because he had been separated from his medication in the kidnapping. The priest says he was not maltreated, but lived in very primitive conditions during the ordeal.
Fr Sinnot, says that he plans to return to the Southern city of Pagadian, from where he was kidnapped, and where he had been living and working as a priest.
Below will be a quotation of Agenzia Fides / Fides Service, on this situation, Agenzia Fides is the Vatican's Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples' official missionary news service (Fides Service speak in their own capacity, and their views, and claims are not necessarily those of our service:):
"ASIA/PHILIPPINES - “Fr. Sinnott is free, thanks be to God!”: Superior General of the Saint Columban Missionaries shares his joy with Fides
Manila (Agenzia Fides) - "We are very relieved and very happy. We thank the Lord for the good news of the release of Fr. Sinnott. I believe that Fr. Michael is fine. He is conducting a medical check-up in Zamboanga City and is a bit weak from the 31 days of captivity in the jungle, but overall he is in good conditions."
This is what Fides was told by Fr. Thomas Murphy, Superior General of the Society of St. Columban for Foreign Missions, the congregation of Fr. Michael Sinnott, the Irish missionary kidnapped on October 11th in Pagadian (on the island of Mindanao) and released in the early morning hours of Nov. 12 in Zamboanga City.
The Superior adds: "I am particularly happy because Fr. Sinnott is a person who is close to my heart: because he was the Rector when I was in the Seminary and has contributed to my human and spiritual formation. But everyone here today is overflowing with happiness. The Lord has heard our prayers."
On the details of issue, Fr. Murphy said: "I can confirm that he was released thanks to the mediation of the army and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which handed him over to military authorities in Zamboanga."
Fr. Murphy tells Fides: "The Missionaries of St. Columban in the world this morning are celebrating a Mass of Thanksgiving. In the Filipino community the joy is palpable. There is a continual thanksgiving for the successful conclusion of this affair. Fr. Sinnott is much loved and respected by the faithful of the parish, the children he cares for, and by the entire local community. "
In recent weeks, the Missionaries of St. Columba have organized prayer vigils and peaceful demonstrations to demand his release, involving Christians and Muslims in the South Philippines:
"We believe that this movement of public opinion and testimony played a significant role in the release Fr. Sinnott. We thank all those who were close with their prayer and concrete gestures of solidarity and all those who contributed to the issue and saving Fr. Sinnott," the Superior General concluded. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 12/11/2009)"
(Agenzia Fides dispatch, paragraphing altered for readability)