No-ransom policy yet many are kidnapped

| November 4, 2009

A high-ranking official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on Tuesday said that he was confused on why the government stuck to a no-ransom policy on the abduction of Irish missionary Father Michael Sinnott.

“Ako’y nagtataka, that the administration is quite definite in saying [that it has a] no-ransom policy. Eh bakit panay naman ang kidnapping [I’m surprised about the Arroyo administration’s no-ransom policy. But why are so many still being kidnapped]?,” Lingayen-Dagupan Bishop Oscar Cruz said during the weekly CBCP media forum.

Cruz added that he expects more kidnappings to happen in the future. “Alangan namang matigil yan [It is unlikely that abductions would stop].”

“My heart goes to Father Sinnott because he’s an elderly like I am, and he is an elderly with a heart condition. [The Irish priest going without] medications, I think, is not only a penalty but also a cruelty [that his captors are subjecting him to],” he said.

According to him, he remains in the dark on why the government cannot curb kidnappings especially in southern Mindanao.

Sinnott, 79, was forcibly taken by six still unidentified men from the compound of the Columban missionaries in Pagadian City, Zamboanga del Sur, on October 11.
Concerns were raised about the medical condition of the ailing priest, especially because he underwent heart bypass in 2007.

Reports said that medicines sent through emissaries have not reached Sinnott.

Quite conceivable

Cruz said that if any local Catholic Church officials were abducted, the CBCP would not be disposed “to give them [abductors] ransom.”

“For foreigners, ransom is quite conceivable and even probable,” the bishop added.
The government and Sinnott’s superiors in the Columban Missionary Society had rejected the $2-million ransom demand of the kidnappers.

A two-week-old video footage of the Irish priest wherein he asked that the $2 million be paid made its way to a television station early this week.

The military on Monday said that the video of Sinnott released by the kidnappers had given them clues about the identity of his captors and the location where he was being kept.
Cruz said that in instances where foreigners were kidnapped, there had been negotiations for ransoms.

But, he added, he does not know who gave what to who.

Sinnott was the fourth priest to be kidnapped in Mindanao in 12 years.

Father Desmond Hartford was grabbed on October 27, 1997, Father Rufus Halley on August 28, 2001, Father Giuseppe Pierantoni on October 17, 2001 and Father Giancarlo Bossi in June 2007.

A Muslim separatist group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), has joined planned rescue operations for Sinnott.

The MILF’s involvement in attempts to free the Irish priest, Bishop Emmanuel Cabajar said on Tuesday, would jeopardize the safety of Sinnott.

Cabajar noted that the MILF was initially suspected of masterminding the Sinnott abduction.
The impasse over the kidnapping remaining unresolved would also endanger peace talks between the government and the MILF, Malacañang said also on Tuesday.

The Armed Forces and the Interior department had both received intelligence reports that rogue elements of the MILF were behind the October 11 kidnapping of the Irish priest, spokesman Lorelei Fajardo told reporters.

While the government “would like to give them the benefit of the doubt,” the MILF leadership must impose “punishment or sanction against those involved to show good faith and that they are very sincere,” Fajardo said.
She added that it was possible that the MILF leadership was not aware that some of its members were involved, noting earlier denials from the group.
“We hope that this is an isolated case, so we have to be very careful in handling this,” Fajardo said.

Peace talks
When asked whether the incident could affect the peace talks, she said, “There might be some respite in the peace talks, but we have to continue [the talks at some stage].”

Sinnott was believed to have been taken to a jungle area in nearby Lanao del Norte province where MILF rebels and other armed groups operate.

The military had initially said Sinnott was being held by a notorious pirate in the area, although Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro subsequently blamed rogue members of the MILF.
The MILF has repeatedly denied any involvement, and has even offered the service of an armed unit to go after Sinnott’s kidnappers.

Columban missionaries in the Philippines continued to pray for the safe release of the Irish priest.
Father Pat O’Donoghue, Philippine Region Director of the Missionary Society of Saint Columban, also on Wednesday said that Sinnott would insist on money being used for the poor and disadvantaged, especially those with special needs, rather than pay the kidnappers.

“Mick never put himself first and he won’t start now,” O’Donoghue added, referring to Sinnott.
A crisis group handling the kidnapping crisis in Pagadian City, Zamboanga del Sur, had said that it was prepared to negotiate with the kidnappers. It added that it would not pay ransom for the freedom of the hostage.

“One of the things that they [abductors] would try to do would be to make sure that Mick gets all the medication he needs. There is a willingness to maintain the contact and that is important. But the waiting continues and patience will be needed,” O’Donoghue said.

Freed soon

“My own hope remains that there would be a breakthrough quickly and that compassion would prevail and that Mick would be freed very soon. That is my hope, not an expectation,” he added.
The Philippine and Irish governments and the Columban missionaries in the country have rejected the ransom demand.

Muslim secessionists, including MILF rebels, have been fighting for an independent Islamic state in southern Philippines for nearly four decades. Some of them have been known to target and kidnap foreigners, including members of the clergy.

Peace talks with the MILF have been stalled since last year, when two MILF commanders broke a 5-year old ceasefire and launched large-scale attacks across Mindanao.

The talks, however, were scheduled to resume this year after both sides agreed to allow the participation of international peace brokers.

With reports from Al Jacinto and AFP

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Category: Mission Trip/Missionary Security

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