Ulamas appeal for Sinnott release
- John Unson () - October 21, 2009 - 12:00am

COTABATO CITY , Philippines  – The 5,000-member National Ulama Conference of the Philippines (NUCP) yesterday appealed for the immediate release of kidnapped Irish priest Michael Sinnott.

The NUCP, a nationwide organization of Islamic scholars whose members include preachers trained in Islamic countries abroad, issued a statement condemning the kidnapping of Sinnott as anti-Islam.

“We condemn this act as violently opposed to the tenets of Islam and Christianity (and)… a departure from the long tradition of tolerance, compassion and goodwill held in common by these faiths,” the NUCP said.

The group also urged a peaceful dialogue for the safe release of Sinnott.

“We likewise call on the members of society to see the urgent need for sustained dialogue among its diverse members in light of this recurring incidence of abduction of civilians,” the NUCP said.

The group also criticized the media for labeling the suspected kidnappers of Sinnott as “Muslim terrorists” and “Islamic militants.”

They said the labels, which they said were emotionally and politically charged, had maligned the Islamic faith in referring to the supposed abductors of the Irish priest.

Six armed gunmen kidnapped the 79-year-old Irish priest from his home at the Missionary Society of Saint Columban compound in Pagadian City on Oct. 11.

Authorities initially suspected a group of pirates snatched Sinnott and brought him to the custody of a commander of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Lanao del Norte.

The Islamic scholars said the continued labeling of the suspects would only widen the rift between Muslims and Christians in the region.

“Whilst we similarly condemn these acts of harassment against Islam, we are cognizant and highly appreciative of a tradition held in media practice which in nature is remarkably Islamic – that of actively and courageously speaking out against injustices in the preservation of the integrity of the Ummah or the larger community, one that derives its strength from finding unity in diversity,” the group said.

The provincial chapters of the NUCP in Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte said they have sent emissaries to convince the kidnappers of Sinnott to release him without any ransom.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), on the other hand, called on the MILF to help the government in locating Sinnott.

AFP spokesman Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner said the Armed Forces is asking for help from the MILF but not necessarily sending rebel forces to locate the priest.

Brawner said it would do more harm than good to send rebel forces to the area because of the possibility of a “misencounter” with government troops tracking down Sinnott and his kidnappers.

“Our troops are already in the area, ready to launch a rescue operation… we are appealing to the MILF not to do this action, not to send in troops because it might just complicate the issue, complicate the situation on the ground,” he said.

Brawner said the MILF could help find the Irish priest even without deploying their forces in Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur.

The MILF denied taking part in the kidnapping and offered to help the government determine Sinnott’s whereabouts.

MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu said the MILF has an obligation to the government to search for criminal groups operating in their known enclaves.

He said MILF commanders have been ordered to report any sightings of Sinnott and his abductors.

The military said Sinnott and his kidnappers are still holding out in the jungles somewhere in the boundaries of the two Lanao provinces.

Brawner said there are “strong” indications that Sinnott and his abductors are still in the area, but added that they are checking on reports that the priest was already brought to the custody of the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan. –With James Mananghaya


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