By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
MANILA, PHILIPPINES (BosNewsLife)– A frail 79-year-old Irish Catholic priest, who was released after one month of captivity in the Philippines, denied Friday, November 13, that an Islamic rebel group had kidnapped him.
After his unexpected release Thursday, November 12, Michael Sinnott told the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper that the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was not involved in his abduction. Instead, he said, a “lost command” and the “original lumad” (indigenous tribes) of Mindanao were responsible.
The MILF, which has has been fighting for independence for the Philippines southern island of Mindanao, announced earlier that it had not kidnapped Sinnott. MILF said however that it had “negotiated” his release from the original kidnappers, described as a rebel splinter group, or “lost command”.
MILF representatives reportedly handed over the priest to the Philippines army.
The priest was apparently released by the kidnappers without getting the $2 million they demanded for his freedom in a recent video message.
ANSWER TO PRAYERS
Irish leaders called the priest’s freedom “an answer to prayers of millions” in both countries.
Sean McDonagh, a priest in Navan, northwest of Dublin, who has known Sinnott for 45 years, told RTE radio in Ireland it was “a minor miracle” that the missionary survived his ordeal following quadruple bypass heart surgery four years ago.
The priest was apparently kidnapped October 11 by six armed men in the southern city of Pagadian on Mindanao island, where he was involved in a social and education program for children with disabilities on behalf of the Columbans, a Catholic missionary society.
Speaking to reporters Sinnott said he he was never harmed but complained of uncertainty of being released amid arduous conditions and a monotonous diet of sandwiches and rice.
He confirmed that he had hiked through jungles, survived raging seas and slept in a swamp under a tarpaulin before his captors released him Thursday, November 12.
“Because I am a bit old and I found hiking a bit difficult at times, I think that they’d be glad to kidnap a younger man next time,” a smiling Sinnott told reporters after being greeted by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo at a Manila airport.
His kidnapping has underscored dangers faced by Christian missionaries in the Philippines, where several church leaders have been abducted in recent years.
Christians have also been in the crossfire of an ongoing Islamic rebellion. Since 1978, the 12,000-strong MILF has been waging a rebellion for an independent Islamic state in the southern third of this mainly Catholic country.
It signed a ceasefire with Manila in 2003, but the peace talks were suspended last year when MILF commanders launched deadly raids across Mindanao, observers said.