04 November 2009

'Free Sinnott, Muslim leaders urge'

The kidnapping of Columban Fr Michael Sinnott is still a major story in the broadsheet newspapers in the Philippines. I am giving links and parts of articles for information purposes. I am relying on the daily update from Columban Regional Director in the Philippines, Fr Pat O'Donoghue, for information that we are absoloutely sure of. Nothing in the stories below is endorsed, only reported.

Some terms

Palace: Malacañang, the presidential palace, ie, President Arroyo.
AFP: Armed forces of the Philippines

PNP: Philippine National Police

MILF: Moro Islamic Liberation Front

Puno: Interior and Local Government Secretary Ricardo Puno

President Gloria M. Arroyo of the Philippines

For me the most interesting story is in the Manila Daily Bulletin, the paper with the widest circulation in the country. The headline reads: Free Sinnott, Muslim leaders urge. It is under the byline of Edd K. Usman. Here is the relevant part:

November 3, 2009, 4:36pm

DOHA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, Qatar – Filipino Muslim leaders invited by Libya to the 5th General Conference of the World Islamic People's Leadership (WIPL) Tuesday strongly appealed to the kidnappers of Irish priest Fr. Michael Sinnott to immediately free him unharmed and without ransom.

The Muslim leaders said the kidnappers, led by a certain "Abu Jandal", should not wait for the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to stage a rescue attempt because it will only endanger the life of Sinnott, a member of the Catholic Missionary Society of St. Columban.

The WIPL, through the Philippine office of the World Islamic Call Society (WICS), invited to the Tripoli conference Ustadhz Ahmad D. Nooh, head of the WIPL-Philippine Chapter, Aleem Ameroddin Sarangani, president of Markazosshabab Al-Muslim Fil Filibbin, Inc., and Eid Kabalu, chief of the MILF Civil-Military Affairs Department.

Nooh and Sarangani are well-known Islamic scholars who studied in Libya at the Quliatul Ad-Da’wah Al-Islamie and in Kuwait University, respectively.

The three Muslim leaders said Sinnott’s abductors should not ask for ransom either because kidnapping is against the principles of Islam.

What is worse, they added, is that the captive is a religious leader who commands respect from the people and has been helping both Christians and Muslims in Mindanao.

"Given the chance, the MILF will crush the kidnappers' group without sacrificing the life of Fr. Sinnott," said Kabalu. "Of course, foremost consideration is the safety of the hostage in any recovery attempt."

“Based on the teachings of Islam, even in a state of war religious leaders and civilians and their properties are strictly not to be harmed,” Sarangani and Nooh stressed.

"We are appealing to the kidnappers to release unharmed and without ransom the Irish priest in the name of Islam and humanity. No one should be held against his will," the Muslim leaders said.

Kabalu, spokesman for MILF military affairs, said the offer of the Moro rebels to participate in the “safe and immediate recovery” of Sinnott still stands.

Kabalu said MILF Chairman Al-Hajj Murad Ebrahim has directed all MILF officers and members to never engage or join in negotiating the release of the missionary because it will only encourage kidnappers to continue their nefarious activities.

“A rescue is still the best option,” the MILF leader said, which is also the group’s reply to the Crisis Management Committee led by Zamboanga del Sur Gov. Aurora Enerio Cerilles.

The full article is here.

The main story in today's Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI), the broadsheet with the second largest circulation but probably most widely read, is Palace still open to MILF help in priest’s rescue.

The PDI devotes its main editorial today to the kidnapping, The target. Here is the full text:

BASED ON THE government's own statements, the twin priorities in securing Fr. Michael Sinnott’s release are to accomplish it without unduly risking his life, and without paying ransom. Overall, the authorities continue to view the kidnapping of the Columban missionary as a police matter, but there remains an unavoidably political aspect to the kidnapping.

The political aspect involves the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the stalled Mindanao peace process with existing peace panels representing the MILF and the government, and the existence of a multisectoral crisis committee set up by President Macapagal-Arroyo tasked with securing the release of the kidnapped cleric.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines is playing a prominent role in intelligence gathering and has announced that it is poised to launch rescue operations as soon as the multisectoral crisis committee gives the go signal. There are also units of the Philippine National Police active in the area and an ongoing bid for turf implied in PNP Director-General Jesus Versoza’s statements that investigating the Sinnott kidnapping should be treated as a “police function.”

If this weren’t a complicated situation as it is—for there’s the risk that either the AFP or the PNP will jump the gun in a bid to gain glory—the MILF has expressed interest in rescuing the Irish priest, too, provided, according to its spokesman Eid Kabalu, it gets permission from the crisis committee. Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno responded in turn by expressing a preference for the proposed MILF rescue mission to be coursed through the peace panels representing the MILF and the government, respectively.

The AFP and PNP and national officials are hardly coy about their belief that the MILF doesn’t merely know where the kidnapped priest is being held, but is actually a party to the kidnapping. If it is natural for the AFP and the PNP to be rivals in the sense that one would prefer to gain credit for tracking down and rescuing the priest ahead of the other, both seem united in having a suspicious attitude towards the MILF.

The MILF, for its part, sensitive to international opinion, has an interest in being perceived overseas not as the perpetrator of the kidnapping, but as the liberator of the priest. Catholic missionaries and the senior clergy, after all, are a useful buffer against the military and police, with the Catholic hierarchy being supportive of the peace process and much of the MILF’s political objectives.

The government, however, is loath to strengthen the claim of the MILF to being an independent power to reckon with. It doesn’t want the rebel group to seize the opportunity to claim that it—and not government forces—is effective in terms of attending to law-and-order matters in the areas it claims to be its bailiwick.

These are questions our officials need to take into account, but they are secondary to the humanitarian task at hand: to secure the release of an elderly and ailing kidnap victim, as quickly as possible, without unduly risking lives and without paying ransom.

We detect an unwillingness on the part of our officials to concede that the MILF could resolve the situation because it would involve a loss of face for too many institutions: both the AFP and the PNP, plus the Department of Interior and Local Government. We suggest that these institutions resign themselves to the fact that the loss of face took place when Sinnott was kidnapped in the first place.

And they should consider the possibility that even if the MILF, as some officials have intimated, are explicitly or implicitly involved in the kidnapping, it would be more productive to give the rebel group the chance to prove true to its word, and secure the release of the kidnapped priest using its own methods. After all the Catholic hierarchy has announced that it will not pay ransom, which strikes at the heart of what many similar kidnappings of this sort hope to achieve: to score political points by having a platform for the kidnappers to vent their opinions but also reap a financial windfall through extortion.

The Philippine Daily Star in its online edition has this headline: No need for foreign help in rescuing Sinnott – Puno. The story contains a link to an audio of a statement by Interior and Local Government Secretary Ricardo Puno.

The MILF website responds to Secretary Puno: MILF to Puno: Better shut up or you will put Sinnot in harm’s way

The report contains the following:

Meanwhile, Mohagher Iqbal, chairman of the MILF Committee on Information and concurrently its chief peace negotiator, disclosed that the MILF is helping the rescue of Fr. Sinnot for various reasons:

1. It is an obligation on the part of the MILF to help kidnapped victims, not just Sinnot, who happens to be an Irish priest. Kidnapping is a condemnable act. However, the case of Sinnot, 79, is a special one: He had undergone four bypass operations and is too weak to cope up with the travails and hardships attendant to the crime. The sooner the rescue, the better for him;

2. No less than the Irish Ambassador to the Philippines and Singapore appealed to the MILF leadership headed by Chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim to help rescue Fr. Sinnot; and

3. Also Sein Fein leaders Gerry Kelley and Martin McGuinness, who are both members of the Northern Ireland Parliament, sent official request to the MILF and its peace panel to exert all efforts to rescue the kidnapped priest, noting however the “difficulty” of the undertaking.


1 comment:

EDD said...

Dear Friend:

Thank you for posting my article on Fr. Michael Sinnott in your blog. I am here in Tripoli, Libya, and got lucky to get to your website. Nice work, more power! Edd, Manila Bulletin.