Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Notorious pirate leader tagged as behind Irish priest's kidnapping in Philippines

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / October 14, 2009) – The Philippine authorities on Wednesday tagged a notorious pirate leader as behind the kidnapping of an elderly Irish priest in Mindanao Island.

Father Michael Sinnott, 80, a Columban missioner, was seized Sunday from his home in Pagadian City in Zamboanga del Sur province and brought to the town of Sultan Naga Dimaporo in Lanao del Norte, a known stronghold of Moro rebels.

The military has tagged pirate leader Guingona Samal, who was blamed for the series of attacks on small boats in the Zamboanga Peninsula.

“We have identified the kidnapper of the priest as Guingona Samal, a notorious pirate leader in Zamboanga Peninsula,” Marine Major General Benjamin Dolorfino, chief of the Western Mindanao Command, told the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.

He said Sinnott was taken to Sultan Naga Dimaporo near the province of Lanao del Sur where Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels are actively operating. He said they have received intelligence reports that the priest was handed over to the MILF.

Dolorfino said intelligence reports indicated that the priest was handed over to an MILF rebel commander Latip Jamat. “We are verifying the reports and have told the MILF cease-fire committee about it. We are coordinating with the MILF for the safe recovery of the Irish priest,” he said.

Dolorfino said they have deployed hundreds of troops in the town to prevent the kidnappers from escaping with their ailing hostage. Sinnott, a native of Wexford, had a heart surgery several years ago and his family is worried about his condition.

“We have encircled the area where Sinnott is believed being held hostage and more gunboats were also sent to the province to guard the sea and prevent the escape of the kidnappers,” Dolorfino said.

The MILF, which is negotiating peace with Manila, said it is helping authorities to track down the Columban priest and eventually recover him safely from his captors.

“We are doing everything to help the Philippine authorities search and recover the Irish priest. This is our moral obligation,” said Mohagher Iqbal, the MILF deputy chairman and chief peace negotiator. He said they were also investigating the military reports.

Colonel Benito de Leon, commander of army forces in Lanao del Norte, said the reports linking the MILF in the kidnapping has not been validated. "This is still speculation at this time," he said.

The MILF, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group fighting for self-determination, has denied involvements in the kidnapping.

Spanish priest Angel Calvo, who heads the Peace Advocates Zamboanga, said Sinnott's kidnapping is yet another serious assault against Catholic belief.

“The kidnapping of Irish priest Fr Michael Sinnott is yet another serious assault against our hallowed belief in the sacredness of every human life, against the democratic order that enables us to live in dignity, security and peace as a community and society of God-fearing and law-abiding citizens,” he said.

Calvo, who is based in Zamboanga City, said the kidnapped Columban missioner has devoted much of his life to serve the poor and marginalized people of Mindanao, including indigenous and peoples of other religious faiths.

He branded the kidnapping as extraordinarily cruel and saddening.

”The value of Fr Sinnott’s life and work is beyond any ransom price. For its despicable and unspeakable evil and barbarity do we strongly condemn this kidnapping of a holy man. We, therefore, urge and appeal to our civilian, police and military authorities to exercise their duty and exert all efforts for the early and safe freedom of Fr Sinnott,” Calvo said.

“We appeal to our fellow citizens, including civil society peace and community development workers, to remain true and strong in the face of this assault against our shared principles and beliefs. We are again challenged by this crime,” he said.

Calvo said they commiserate with the fellow priests in the Missionary Society of St. Columban of Sinnott in the anguish that his kidnapping may cause them.

“We are confident – as we stand in solidarity with the Columban community in the Philippines – that no kidnapping, no act of violence against missionaries will ever, as it never did in the past, stop them in their mission to uplift peoples through the power of their faith, benefits of education, and emancipation through social justice and freedom,” he said.

”Indeed, the always divine yet often difficult and dangerous pursuit of this noble, life-giving mission holds the essence of true martyrdom, which calls all to work in the service of others no matter the personal cost,” the Spanish priest added. (Mindanao Examiner)

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