Manila (AsiaNews) - Fr Michael Sinnott, 79 year old missionary of St. Columban, is in the hands of the separatist group MILF, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. But AsiaNews sources are awaiting more concrete confirmation. Meanwhile, the Filipino bishops, priests and activists have launched appeals for the liberation of the Irish missionary.
According to police, the priest who was kidnapped on 11 October in Pagadian (Mindanao), was delivered to Latip Jamat, commander of the MILF in Lanao del Norte in the southern Philippines. This is the assertion Sunglao Angelo, chief of police in Zamboanga, who states "Fr. Sinnott and his kidnappers arrived in the town of Sultan Naga Dimaporo October 13”. Sunglao explains that "the kidnappers handed the priest to Latip Jamat" and is hidden in a secret location" in Sultan Naga Dimaporo. Fr. Sinnott was spotted three times since October 12, the day after the seizure made by a gang of six armed men in the Institute of the Society of St. Columban in Pagadian City. The authorities have focused their suspicions on groups affiliated with Abu Sayyaf or MILF separatists.
AsiaNews sources in Mindanao, anonymous for security reasons, "do not confirm" the police version by and add that the situation is "very sensitive" and requires "extreme caution" and "maximum restraint" to secure the release of the priest.
At first, the spokesman of MILF had denied any involvement in the abduction, demonstrating willingness to cooperate in the release of Irish priest. "We do not know who is behind it - said Eid Kabalu - but what matters is our willingness to cooperate and assist the government in the search [for Fr Sinnott] for humanitarian reasons".
Meanwhile, appeals are mounting for the release of the priest. Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, president of the Filipino bishops' conference, asks the kidnappers to release the hostages on humanitarian grounds for his precarious health condition. "We invite the faithful to pray - underlines the prelate - for the health of Fr Sinnott and that he will be released as soon as possible". Fr. Patrick O'Donoghue, superior of the priest of St. Columban, excludes the hypothesis of a payment of a ransom, stressing that this is the "policy followed by the Church" in cases of kidnapping.
Fr. Angel Calvo, president of Peace Advocates Zamboanga, an association committed to dialogue between Christians and Muslims, has added his voice to the chorus demanding the release of Fr. Sinnott. "It's another attack on the sanctity of human life – writes Fr. Calvo - against the democratic order that calls us to live in dignity, in full security and peace. "
Since 1993 at least 15 priests and Protestant clergymen have been kidnapped in Mindanao. Among these eight are foreigners, and seven Filipino nationals.