New crisis committee formed to negotiate Sinnott release
- James Mananghaya () - November 11, 2009 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - A new crisis management committee (CMC) has been formed to negotiate the release of kidnapped Irish priest Michael Sinnot, who is believed to be with rogue elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the border area of Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte.

The government said it is giving the MILF central committee a chance to help in the release of Sinnott after information came out that the secessionist group has not abandoned their readiness to help effect the release of the abducted priest.

Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman, said the new CMC, which would still be headed by Zamboanga del Sur Gov. Aurora Cerilles, has included local government executives from the two provinces.

“For Fr. Sinnot we created an area crisis management committee. Before the crisis management committee of Zamboanga del Sur takes care of the negotiation, but because we believe that Fr. Sinnot is somewhere in Lanao del Norte or Lanao del Sur, we created an area crisis management committee still under Gov. Cerilles because she started it all, but the governors of Lanao Norte and Lanao Sur are now members,” Brawner said.

The broadened crisis committee, according to the AFP spokesman, would boost the cooperative efforts of the three local executives and other law enforcement agencies in negotiating the release of the foreign missionary.

He said the military is ready to mount a rescue operation if allowed by the CMC.

Troops in the area are strengthening measures to restrain the movement of his abductors despite the lack of sightings of the foreign missionary.

Col. Benito de Leon, chief of the Army’s 104th Infantry Brigade, said his men have put up checkpoints in areas where the 79-year-old priest’s kidnappers could be hiding.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) is taking the lead in efforts to recover Sinnot, with authority from the CMC.

Hope springs eternal

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno said he heard the information that the MILF central committee is continuing in its effort to secure the freedom of Fr. Sinnott.

“I received word they’re continuing efforts to try to help in the release of Fr. Sinnott. I hope that is accurate and they will succeed because what is paramount is the safety of the victim,” Puno said.

The MILF central committee earlier warned that it would withdraw from assisting the government after its commanders were tagged in the kidnapping of the priest.

Although optimistic, Puno stressed that they will push through with all government policies, including no ransom and police operation against those MILF who continue to commit crimes.

“At the moment we are giving the MILF central committee some elbow room to do what they want to do, although we still maintain the kidnappers are members of their organization. That being the case, we believe their efforts to try to have Fr. Sinnott is positive,” he said, adding that the current situation has placed them and the area CMC on “wait and see” on what the MILF central committee will do.

“If there was a need to engage in rescue attempt I believe that the combined forces of the AFP and PNP can do that. But at this time we would leave elbow room for the MILF central committee to do what they have promised, which is to effect the release of Fr. Sinnott,” Puno said.

However, he warned that in case the MILF is not sincere in their promise, the kidnappers are just within their reach.

Puno said the six MILF leaders tagged in the abduction failed to respond to their summons despite previous agreements, including the recently signed ceasefire.

Ulamas condemn kidnapping

In a related development, the National Ulama Conference of the Philippines (NUCP), a national organization of Muslim religious scholars, appealed to Sinnott’s abductors for his immediate and unconditional release.

The group also called on those who may have knowledge of the priest’s whereabouts to help in his immediate release.

The NUCP likewise appealed to the government and the media to exercise restraint and vigilance in accusing the MILF, “especially at this point in time when the need for building confidence is necessary for sustained peace endeavors in Mindanao.”

It also called on the MILF leadership “to continue exerting the effort of not only releasing the abducted priest but also to help pinpoint the real culprits and help in bringing them to the bar of justice to answer for the crime they have committed, not only against the law of the land but also against the law of Allah.”

The NUCP stressed that abduction is an act that is against the teachings of Islam.

Catholic Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad, on the other hand, said he is praying that Sinnott would not suffer the fate of Gabriel Canizares, the school principal who was beheaded by his captors.

“There is always a possibility that Fr. Sinnott would be beheaded, but we pray that his kidnappers would not do this. I hope the kidnappers would realize that action is condemned by all men of goodwill,” he said.

A case of double standard

Meanwhile, a senior party-list congressman from Mindanao yesterday bewailed the lax attitude the government has been taking on local captives of kidnappers, but are eagerly concerned about the fate of abducted foreign nationals.

“It’s very unfortunate that a principal like Canizares, who was a genuine hero to many, had to meet this gory end in the hands of these bandits. They are concerned only when foreigners are the victims,” observed Rep. Mujiv Hataman.

The Anak Mindanao congressman nevertheless hailed the efforts of law enforcement agencies and the military in trying to curb rampant kidnapping in the region, which has gained notoriety for abductions of local and foreign nationals.

“While we laud all government efforts in freeing our countrymen who were abducted by the Abu Sayyaf Group, we can’t deny the fact that they (government officials) are very lively in dealing with foreign victims,” Hataman lamented.

Such a double standard like this should be stopped. All the government needs is “more focus and determination” in weeding out this bandit group that has brought embarrassment to the Philippines before the international community.

Hataman compared government efforts in the case of two foreigners from the International Committee of the Red Cross – Andreas Notter and Eugenio Vagni – who were given top priority, which was not the case with Canizares, who was beheaded.

He asked local officials what actions they had taken to secure Canizares’ safety, or at the very least, what measures they took to prevent the beheading, amid reports that his family raised P150,000 instead of the original P2 million ransom.

“The government should finally crush the bandits that prevent Mindanao growth. Once and for all they should end this. – With Roel Pareño, Helen Flores, Evelyn Macairan, Delon Porcalla

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