Msgr. Des Hartford

The Inside Story

Msgr. Des Hartford concludes his diary written in captivity

Tuesday 4 November

I pray as best I can. Around 6 a.m. I get my first wash in 3 days from a hose downstairs. Continual conversation on the two-way radio. My release always seems to be ‘tomorrow’. My bible, breviary and rosary beads that I had requested were brought from Marawi. At 8 am. I was told to pack. The army were approaching. I was taken back to the house near the village. Feeling very low. One of my original captors brought me a cutting from the Daily Inquirer which said I would be released soon. A group of people on their way back of people on their way back to a mountain village came to look at me. One of them encouraged me to escape they seemed genuine. Their leader sat on the bed and every now and then he would spit though a tiny vent in the wall. If ever there was an international spitting contest the Maranaos would get the gold medals for accuracy. At 4:30 pm I was told to pack again. All this moving is exhausting. A 30-minutes walk to a house where there was a husband, wife and one little girl. This family is special. It is the only Christian family in the entire area. I felt relaxed. Everything was neat and simple. The little girl talked to me all the time. It seems that another rebel returnee from Lanao del Sur has brought up to 100 armed men to try to take me from the MILF. I am on the run with my guards. It is tiring and distressful because in has brought a new threat to my life. “The snares has been broken and we have escaped”. That verse of the psalm gives me a lot of hope and courage.

The Inside Story

Continuing the Diary of Msgr. Desmond Hartford

Friday, 31 October

Slept quite poorly. Bananas, sky flakes, and coffee for breakfast. Then to the river to bathe and wash our clothes. The local sultan was waiting for me at the hut when I returned. He had a letter from Aleem Elias Macarandas. Elias is a very good friend of ours in the dialogue movement. He assured me in his letter that the MILF are now in charge of my security that I’m in safe hands and it is only a matter of time until I am released. More rain so most of the time is spent under the mosquito net. One of my guards is interested in English. We spend some of the afternoon translating phrases from Maranao and Visayan into English. It is frustrating to think that many people are worried because of me. This is the part of the powerless. Being held at gunpoint leaves one very few options. I feel that at times I should be more resistant. A trust has been built with my guards. Today just one guard assured me that they had nothing to do with my kidnapping.

The Inside Story

This is part one of a three-part series from Msgr. Desmond Hartford’s Diary while he was taken captive in Mindanao. Rebel returnees, who were overdue their payment from the Government, kidnapped the intrepid priest in the hope of pressuring g the government, Fr. Hartford tells the day to day odyssey in his own words.

Monday 27 October

This morning when Fr. Rufil and myself reached the beach we were told that the rest of the group were waiting for us in a school above the town. When we  arrived we were put into a jeepney and driven for about 30 minutes into the mountains. Here Fr. Rufil was released and sent back to negotiate with government officials. I was to be kept hostage until the demands were met. We walked for about two more hours. My eight captors are heavily armed. One shot a wild bird which we ate with some rice. Then I asked them to allow me time to pray. We talked in Visayan and Mindanao. They are friendly. I feel peaceful, without fear. But numbed by the experience of betrayal.

Hostage


His days as hostage of Muslim rebels last year highlighted the difficulties of Fr. Des Hartford’s mission reconciliation.

On 7 November last, Fr. Des Hartford, Apostolic Administrator of Marawi in the Philippines, was released by his captors and walked for two hours through the forest of Mindanao to freedom. His ordeal began eleven days previously when he was abducted by former members of the Moro National Liberation Front. By their action they hoped to bring pressure on the government of the Philippines to fulfill promises made when an amnesty was signed some years ago. Fr. Hartford, who has worked for almost thirty years in the promotion of peace in this conflict area, represents the Catholic bishops on the Mindanao Tripartite Commission for dialogue.