A kidnapped Catholic Irish priest has been freed unharmed early Thursday morning in Zamboanga City after one month in captivity, officials said.
Father Michael Sinnott was turned over to government peace panel chairman Rafael Seguis by a unit of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front unit, which was ordered earlier by its leadership top help in the release effort, at around 4:22 a.m. at the costal village of Sangali, this city.
“I am very happy to inform everyone that after 30 days of captivity, Fr. Michael Sinnott has finally been released. He is a bit exhausted at this time, but otherwise, he is in good physical and emotional health. More importantly, he is with us once more,” Seguis said in statement issued to the local reporters by Major General Benjamin Dolorfino, chief of the military’s Western Mindanao Command, at Edwin Andrews Air Base (EAAB).
Personally, Seguis added: “Since Fr. Sinnot’s abduction…,ensuring his safe release has been our overriding concern. We have accomplished this goal. Personally, I am very relieved to see Fr. Mick early this morning when I received him from our joint CCCH.”
Seguis commended GRP-CCCH chairman Major General Reynaldo Sealana, his counterpart, MILF-CCCH chairman Toks Ebrahim, the CCCH secretariat heads Major Jun Sol and Rashid Ladiasan, and the other members of their team.
“I also wish to thank and congratulate our counterparts in the MILF peace panel, especially it chairman Mohagher Iqbal, for working and cooperating with us through the peace process mechanism,” he said.
Iqbal, in a phone interview, said they are very happy with the recovery of Father Sinnott, but admitted it was a delicate operation. We exerted great pressure to the group holding the priest and so was the family and relatives of those who held Father Sinnott.”
Iqbal said no ransom was paid for the kidnapped Irish priest’s release, invoking that kidnapping is forbidden in Islam and Father Sinnott’s recovery did not involve any money.
The kidnappers originally demanded $2 million for the release of the missionary, but authorities said it would not pay ransom.
Sinnott was taken by six gunmen on October 11 from his Columban missionary house in Pagadian City in Zamboanga del Sur province and brought to Lanao province.
Top military officials from the WesMinCom headquarters said Dolorfino said the priest is frail, but is okay. “He is okay and was examined by our doctors,” Dolorfino said.
Dolorfino said the priest told him that it took them 9 hours by boat to Zamboanga City. “Before Father Sinnott was freed, the kidnappers brought him to a mountain hideout and later transferred him at a mangrove area, probably in Lanao, for 10 days until he was released."
He said the MILF played a vital role in the recovery of the priest. “This will have a big impact in the peace talks between the MILF and the government. This is confidence-building measure and we are happy that Father Sinnott is finally a free man,” Dolorfino said.
Revealing his ordeal to the local reporters in Zamboanga City before leaving to Manila, Father Sinnott said he was treated well by his captors, who he identified as members of a “lost command” headed by Kikay.
“They said they were the Lost Command and the one in-charge is Kikay. The first group in the swamp they were 7 of them and the second group – only two had guarded me,” Sinnott said.
“They treated me very well, conditions were very primitive and we were living in the open under vinyl and they did their best to make things as easy as possible for me those who were guarding me. On the first 10 days, we were in the swampy area. It was a small area and you cannot walk – it’s difficult. Just slept on the hammock, there was nothing else. When we got to the forest, the one in-charge caused a pathway of about 10 meters and I walked up and down there. The first 10 days there was no place for walking around,” he said.
The Irish priest said he was supposed to be freed last week, but bad weather prevented his captors from releasing him.
“On the 4th of November, we were supposed to be released and after about 20 minutes hiking we were told that there is a typhoon on the way and it’s too high for the boat so we came back. Then last Monday, they said they were just waiting for the signal, so Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday the signal came so we came out. The first time we changed from the swampy area to forest area, they told me that I was going out free so when I got there so I said now I will not leave until I am free, but they were actually going out, but even last night I was not sure,” he further said.
The priest continued that his captors told him that he was kidnapped because of ransom. “They said they want to get money, to get ransom and I do not know if they got money.”
Sinnott said he wanted to return to his missionary home in Pagadian City, but would discuss this with the Missionary Society of St. Columban. He also thanked those who helped secure his freedom.
“I hope I will be going back to Pagadian, I do not know, but that has to be discussed with many people besides my self,” he said. “I would like to thank everybody who helped to get me free and every one of my friends that I know prayed for me while I was in captivity.” (HG)