June 2, 2001, Inquirer, Fr. Nacorda: Still another brush with Abu Sayyaf
Posted: 10:54 PM (Manila Time) By The PDI Mindanao Bureau, Inquirer News Service
THIS is not the first time that Fr. Cirilo Nacorda has come face to face with the Abu Sayyaf and their terror tactics.
Seven years ago, he was captured by the Basilan Abu Sayyaf, led by Barahama Sali, and was held for 61 days. And even before he was taken hostage yesterday at the St. Peter's Church in Lamitan, Nacorda was the object of a failed kidnap attempt by the extremists in 1995, which was foiled after a four-hour running gunbattle between government troops and the attacking Abu Sayyaf.
On June 8, 1994, the Abu Sayyaf stopped a passenger bus and two jeepneys along the highway in Barangay Lumbang, Isabela, Basilan. Nacorda, who was then parish priest of Matarling, a village of Isabela, was among 74 people seized by the bandits.
Of the 74 hostages, one escaped, 15 were massacred, and 57 others were freed in two batches, reportedly after the payment of a P300,000 ransom.
Government negotiators later claimed that Nacorda had been released without a ransom being paid, reportedly on orders issued by Sali as he lay dying from wounds suffered during a clash with government soldiers.
One radio report said Nacorda himself said the last prayers for his captor, although the priest would not confirm the reports about Sali's death nor talk about the encounter where the bandit leader was supposed to have fallen.
After his release, the priest related how his kidnappers tried to convert him to Islam without success.
He said he talked with Sali many times and found him to be "a good person who was only used by some group."
The second kidnap attempt on Nacorda occurred during the visit here of Pope John Paul II in 1995. Thirty-three Abu Sayyaf bandits and about a dozen troopers were killed in the battle to thwart the kidnapping.
But Nacorda and other priests and nuns serving in seven parishes of Basilan refused to leave the province despite the threat to their lives.
Indeed, when fleeing Abu Sayyaf bandits attacked and took over the St. Peter's Church in Lamitan yesterday, they ended up with another hostage -- Fr. Cirilo Nacorda, the parish priest.