12 November 2009

Further reports on release of Fr Michael Sinnott

Fr Michael Sinnott

As I post this at 1:10pm Philippine time (5am GMT), Father Sinnott is already in the Columban house in Manila.

The website of the Columbans in Australia and New Zealand carries two reports on the release this morning of Fr Michael Sinnott One is Fr Michael Sinnott - FREED:

Fr Michael Sinnott was freed from his one month of captivity this morning, Thursday 12th, at 4.00 AM.

Lt. Gen. Ben Dolorfino, Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom) chief, said Moro Islamic Liberation Front chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal, who were tasked to help free Sinnot, turned over the priest to Ambassador Rafael Seguis, chair of the government peace panel, and Maj. Gen. Reynaldo Sealana, chair of the government's Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities at around 4.00 a.m. at the coastal Barrio of Sangali and brought to Zamboanga City.

Dolorfino said Sinnott was o.k and undergoing medical tests as of 6 a.m. and will be flown to Manila later.

Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr. insisted no ransom was paid for Sinnott's release.

We rejoice on Fr Mick's safe returnand give thanks to God for hearing the prayersof the countless number of people who have prayedand fasted that he would return safely to us alland especially to the special children of Hangop Kabataan

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The second report is Father Sinnott freed one month after kidnapping and is by Fr Jim Mulroney SSC, a Columban Priest and Editor of The Sunday Examiner which is the English language paper of the Hong Kong diocese:

“Where are we? Where are we going?” were the first words uttered by kidnapped Columban missionary, Father Mick Sinnott.

The head of the secretariat of the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities for the Government of The Philippines, an army major, Carlos Sol, took him into safe custody from Rashid Ladiason, head of the secretariat of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), in Sangli, near Zamboanga City, at 4.22am today.

The ceasefire committees from both the government and the MILF in civil war-torn Mindanao were waiting to meet Father Sinnott in Sangali, as the MILF negotiator, Ladiason, brought him in on a pump boat.

The chairperson of the Maguindinao-based MILF peace panel, Mohagher Iqbal, said that the task force set up by the MILF to negotiate Father Sinnott’s freedom had expected to bring him in by about 8.00pm on the day of his release, November 11, Armistice Day, but they had not been able to leave until about 5.30pm and still faced an overnight ride on a pump boat, which arrived in Sangali early on the morning of November 12.

The MILF has not disclosed where they found Father Sinnott, nor any details about his abductors. However, Iqbal did admit that members of his task force had spoken with relatives of the kidnappers and applied moral pressure, but he insisted they did not use violence.

He stressed that his men had stuck rigidly with the no ransom principle, adding nor was payment made for what is known in the kidnap trade as “board and lodging fees” either. In fact, he added that “hundreds and thousands of pesos were spent by the MILF in its efforts to recover Father Sinnott.”

Iqbal noted that he could not divulge the identity of the kidnappers as the deal done with their relatives was that they would not give out this information. However, the vice chairperson for Political Affairs of the MILF, Ghazali Jaafar, told CBCP News that the Central Committee would decide what to do with the kidnappers once their exact identities have been established.

Jaafar dismissed rumours that members of the Al-Quaeda-linked Abu Sayaff were involved in the kidnapping, saying, “You see, it would be hard to believe reports, because kidnapers happen to be one of the best liars.” He also denied rumours spread by the secretary to the Interior and Local Government Department, Ronaldo Puno, that his own organisation, the MILF, was involved in the kidnapping.

He explained that, according to the orders of the Standing Committee of the MILF, they were to follow the policy of not doing anything contrary to the law, “because the MILF and the government are partners in peace-building.”

However, he added that if it had not been for the internal tension caused by Puno’s remarks, the release of Father Sinnott may have happened much earlier. He also insisted that Father Sinnott’s release coming on the same day as the secretary of state for the United States of America, Hilary Clinton, was in Manila, is purely coincidental, explaining that she had nothing to do with it.

The news was first released to the world on Irish television by the minister for Foreign Affairs, Michael Martin, and the regional director of the Columban Mission Society in The Philippines, Father Pat O’Donoghue, said he first heard it from people in Ireland who telephoned to tell him it had been on the 9.00pm news (Ireland time November 11).

MindaNews reported that Father Sinnott is receiving medical treatment at a clinic in Zamboanga City. Sol said that although he is a bit confused, he is looking well. “I told him he looks strong,” the major was quoted as saying. He explained that when he recovers, he will probably be taken to Manila to be presented to the president of the Republic of The Philippines, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Father Sinnott was presented to a brigadier general, Reynaldo Sealana, who received him on behalf of the government. He had flown from Manila to Zamboanga a few days beforehand.

The chairperson from the government peace panel, Seguis, said, “Today marks the culmination of the hard work put in by the members of our Ceasefire Committees who, in coordination with the Crisis Management Committee and the MILF leadership, have demonstrated tremendous teamwork to ensure the success of this undertaking.”

Fr Jim Mulroney SSC is a Columban Priest and Editor of The Sunday Examiner which is the English language paper of the Hong Kong diocese.

The website has a dossier on Father Sinnott here.

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