From Andrew Drummond, Manila, Friday, 13 2009
Resilient Irish priest Father Michael Sinnott wore down his captors with words of kindness and prayers.
After ten days they gave up their political speeches threw
their hands in the air and said: ‘If you go now we will be free too. We
want you to go!’
Instead of a fit young captive who needed little attention they had
found themselves nurses to a genial old man who in other circumstances
could have been their friend, he said.
Faced with the priest’s refusal to believe in their cause
and nonplussed with his gentle manner, they ended up being his
caretakers, and praying themselves that no harm would come to the
79-year-old Irish Columban missionary.
The kidnap by a break-away faction of the Moro Islamic National Front in
the Southern Philippines ended with his armed guards almost begging the
authorities to take Father Sinnott back.
‘ They had enough. They all wanted to go home too,’ Father Sinnott told
the Irish Daily Mail today (Friday) in Manila, ‘ I guess they had their
own families to look after.
‘We had started off at loggerheads. They insisted they were freedom
fighters and they were original indigenous people, known as Lumad, from
Mindanao. They wanted their land back and a state with a constitution
which would be the Koran.
‘Well, I was having nothing of that blarney. I told them that most of
Mindanao was now Christian. And in any case the original indigenous
people were neither Christian nor Muslim. Actually Christianity came 200
years to the Philippines after Islam but the majority are now
‘Really what they really wanted was $2million in ransom. But it did not take them long to give up on that idea.
‘For the first week ago there was little love lost. They prayed their
way and I prayed mine, staring up to the heavens flat on my back in a
hammock as three times a day they faced Mecca. But by the second week
we were all praying for each other.
‘Forget about the politics, or their crime. These were normal people
with families with the same aspirations as anyone. We got to know each
other quite well. They were very kind. Beside they may have had trouble
on their hands. I was not troublesome. But I took a lot of looking
after and they were worried for my health.
‘In the end I think they accepted that kidnap was forbidden by the
Koran, and they were told that I believe by leaders of the real MILF.
But they argued that they had no other way to get funding.
Father Mick’s captivity came to an end on Thursday after representatives
of the real Moro Islamic National Front ordered the breakaway group, to
hand him back to the authorities. No ransom was paid, but a small
gratuity is believed to have given to the small group, as a face saving
gesture. It is not thought to have been over $5000.
It was on October 11th Father Sinnott was taking his daily exercise
shirtless outside the Columban Mission in Pagadian, southern Mindanao
after supper when he heard the sound of rushing feet behind him on the
driveway. He was grabbed by three men and a fourth came to face him with
The next minute he was bundled into a pick-up truck, known locally as a
multi-cab, covered with a blanket and taken down to the shore.
‘I know people associate the Southern Philippines with kidnap but I
never thought in a million years anyone would come to the Columban
Mission and actually do it.
‘They put me in a boat and covered me up. Then took me to another and
bigger and faster boat and transferred me and put me on the floor of the
boat. They handled me roughly and blindfolded me but I could still
see which side of the boats the lights were on, so I knew in which
general direction we were going and it certainly was not in the
direction they were telling me.
‘When we put ashore again I had to walk with them for about one and a
half hours. It was through stagnant muddy swamp water and we were guided
‘When we stopped it was about 6am and getting light. The number of
guards had risen now from four to about 8 or 9. I was stuck on a dry
mound in the swamp about one metre by three metres.
‘Hammocks were put up and I clambered in mine. If I got out one side I
would end up in the swamp. On my other side was the guards’ hammock.
‘We did not see eye to eye for the first few days. But I took things as
they came. They argued about their cause, giving political sermons every
day. I was not having any of it but I guess I was good natured about
it and they were nice people and eventually stopped and they treated me
oh so very well.
‘I certainly got the feeling they thought they had got the wrong guy.
I’m 79 years old and need taking care of and that’s just what they did.
little thing from helping me fasten my shoes to getting in and out of
the hammock, and even moving in my hammock into a comfortable position,
which is not so easy for an old man.
‘They sent out men to get the provisions and brought for me things like
bread and sandwich spread, which together with some of their rice was my
daily intake. They also brought mosquito spray which made the swamp
tolerable. Who has ever heard of terrorists supplying mosquito spray
and sandwich spread?
Father Sinnott had last year been in hospital for a heart operation.
‘When I told them I did not have my heart medicine, the medicine arrived
at the end of ten days, but I had no trouble in the meantime.
‘I even saw their shopping bags which showed they had done their
shopping in Cotabato, so I had roughly guessed my location correctly.
‘By the end of ten days they had clearly had enough themselves. There
was myself and two guards on one mound. Then on another mound a few
yards away were another two guards, and a third dry mound was the
cooking mound with another three guards.
‘The only exercise I got was to jump up and down beside my hammock. The
boredom was the worst thing; ten days stuck in a hammock or standing
or sitting on a very small dry piece of land.
‘I knew my guards by their first names, or nicknames. There was
Keekaye, who had five sons and two daughters. But he wished they he had
seven sons so they could all be freedom fighters.
‘There was Norking, who was just eighteen. He said he would rather fight
by the power of a ballpoint pen than a gun. Then there were others
called Alex, Jango, Max and Terry.
‘In the end they were all on my side and wishing I would go soon. Then on the 11th day I was moved.
‘I thought I was moving to freedom. Because by now I was pretty sure I was going to be released.
‘At no time apart from at the very beginning when I was roughly treated
did I think any harm would come to me. I believe in the power of
prayer. I could feel the power of the prayers from people in the
Philippines and from back home at the Church of the Assumption in
‘And of course, I was praying myself but I did not find prayers easy.
‘When they moved me they took me on another boat ride about eight hours.
Again I was in the bottom of the boat. This time they marched me into a
jungle area, but I know it was not far from civilization, because often
during the day we could hear the sound of people in the jungle cutting
‘One one occasion they got close, so we had to move further away. But
in the jungle life was better. I had a hammock and a tarpaulin, which
would protect me from the rain, providing the rain came straight down,
which it does not always do.
‘They also cut me out a piece of the jungle as an exercise yard. Even
before the beginning of November I was sure I was going to be released.
But there were a couple of false alarms. I thought I was going to be
released on November 4th but that attempt was abandoned because I gather
the sea was too rough.
‘I just had to continue the same routine until my release. Up at
dawn. Breakfast followed by toiletries. Back to the hammock for prayers.
Then onto a wooden log bench, maybe to chat with my captors, as I knew
the local dialect. Then in the afternoon back to the hammock to do a
few decades of the Rosary. There was nothing to read. No radio. We all
just wanted to go home.
‘When eventually my release came after being taken eight hours by boat
to Zamboanga I was surprised at all the attention I received. I knew
lots of people were involved in the negotiations for my release, my
fellow fathers, the Philippines Red Cross, the Government and Army, and
the MILF themselves, not forgetting all those who prayed from me. I want
to thank them all. God Bless you.’
Father Michael, or Father Mick, as he is known, received a special welcome back home in the Philippines capital of Manila.
At the Columban Centre in Ermita, Father Pat Don O’Donaghue, who
flew to the southern Philippines to assist in the rescue said: ‘ Father
Mick is dearly loved here. He looks after over 60 disabled kids in the
mission in Pagadian and is a leading member of the local inter-faith
So while he was away not only were prayers being said in the Catholic
and Christian churches worldwide, but prayers were being said in the
local Catholic churches, the local Mosque and prayers were being said by
the local tribal people.
‘He is a remarkable and well-loved man. He was my tutor in fact he has
been the tutor to most of the Columban fathers in the Philippines’.