Crisis team ready to talk to priest’s kidnappers

| November 1, 2009

PAGADIAN CITY, Zamboanga del Sur, Philippines — The Zamboanga del Sur Crisis Management Committee (CMC) is ready to negotiate with the kidnappers of 79-year-old Irish missionary priest Michael Sinnott.

Allan June Molde, CMC spokesperson, however, said the government's no-ransom policy would remain the context of any talks.

The pronouncement came on the heels of the release of the video of Sinnott on Saturday to the CMC and a host of media outfits as 'proof of life,' along with a demand for $2 million in exchange for his freedom.

Allan June Molde, CMC spokesperson, said the members of the multi-sectoral body, which has been overseeing efforts for Sinnott's search and eventual rescue, "welcome this development."

"We are happy to know that he (Sinnott) is very much alive and in good condition," said Molde, noting scenes from the video clips sent by the kidnappers.

Molde disclosed that since the start of the kidnapping drama, several individuals coming from the CMC personally offered to act as negotiator if the situation called for it.

These include Msgr. Gilbert Hingone, vicar-general of the Catholic Church's Pagadian diocese whom Bishop Emmanuel Cabajar appointed as spokesperson, and Zamboanga del Sur governor Aurora Cerilles.

Throughout the past three weeks, Cerilles even made a repeated personal appeal to kidnappers to establish contact as soon as possible, reveal their minds, and she would be willing sit down with them to talk out a possible way to recover the ailing priest.

Molde added that several other religious personalities from the various parishes in the diocese have also come forward and offered to be negotiators "in the spirit of helping end the ordeal of Fr. Mick."

By Sunday, Sinnott had already spent his third week in captivity. He was snatched from the convent of the Missionary Society of Saint Columban in Pagadian on the evening of Oct. 11.

"But we will wait for word from the kidnappers who among the personalities they would pick to deal with. Of course we understand the need for them to deal with someone they would be comfortable with," Molde explained.

The CMC had a special meeting on Saturday to consider its options on how to recover Sinnott in light of the 'proof of life' video, said Molde.

But he is quick to add that any negotiation will be conducted within the context of government's no-ransom policy.

In the 'proof of life' video, Sinnott, who has grown some facial hair, was made to beg for pity by his kidnappers.

Apparently reading from a prepared note, the ailing 79-year old Sinnott appealed to those "who may have pity… on me to help so that I can get out of here as soon as possible."

Sinnott's appeal was also addressed "to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo; Philippine and Irish governments; and my companions in the Society of Saint Columban…"

In the video, Sinnott was wearing a white t-shirt bearing Chinese characters in front set in black.

According to Molde, the video came in an MP5 gadget, and is actually a set of four clips.

In one of the clips, Sinnott was made to read aloud the items in an October 22 Inquirer front page. First, Sinnott read the Inquirer's date; then the head of the banner story of the day; and then next the head of a story about the expected strike of typhoon Ramil into northern Luzon.

In another clip, Sinnott said he has been in good condition although he was worried about not being able to take his required daily medication.

The kidnappers' $2-million ransom demand in exchange for his freedom was mentioned by Sinnott in still another clip as well as the identity of the leader of the group holding him.

Authorities and the rebel group Moro islamic Liberation Front have said Sinnott is being kept in a jungle lair in the hinterlands of southern Lanao del Norte.

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Category: Mission Trip/Missionary Security

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