MARAWI CITY (MindaNews / 26 June) — The Maute Group on Sunday declined to release hostaged Catholic priest Fr. Teresito “Chito” Soganub but freed five hostages, including a two-year old girl during the 10-hour humanitarian ceasefire that government declared and was reciprocated by the Maute Group on Eid’l Fitr, the end of the month-long Ramadan.
Freed by Maute Group leader Abdullah Maute to an eight-member team led by an emissary of the Government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (GPH-MILF) Peace Corridor were Lando Albasite, 47; Moen Albasite, 27; Joana Albasite, 2; Jane Palacio, 22; and Joy Upong, 20.
The team included four Muslim religious leaders who dialogued with the Maute Group for some 90 minutes on how to end the crisis, the emissary told MindaNews.
The Marawi Crisis entered Day 34 on Sunday.
The emissary, a prominent Maranao whose name has been withheld by the GPH-MILF Peace Corridor for security considerations, was the same emissary who negotiated with the ISIS-inspired Maute Group to agree to a humanitarian ceasefire on June 4. The four-hour “humanitarian pause” then led to the rescue of at least 134 residents.
The emissary told MindaNews late Sunday night that Maute had set a condition for the release of Fr. Chito but agreed to free some hostages who were located nearest to their meeting place. The five happened to be the nearest.
The emissary said the condition set by Maute for the release of Fr. Chito as well as the results of the dialogue with the religious leaders have been relayed to Assistant Secretary Dickson Hermoso of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, the government’s focal person in the GPH-MILF Peace Corridor. Hermoso, a retired Army Colonel and a member of the government’s Peace Implementing Panel for the GPH-MILF Peace Accord, told MindaNews Monday morning that he had relayed the information to their chair, Irene Santiago.
Santiago told MindaNews Monday morning that these matters would be discussed with Secretary Jesus Dureza, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.
President Rodrigo Duterte is hosting an Eid’l Fitr dinner on Tuesday, June 27, in Malacanang, for the peace implementing panels of the MILF, MNLF and the Bangsamoro Transition Commission.
MindaNews first learned about the release of hostages from Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, chief of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom).
When MindaNews clarified his use of “hostages” in his text message, Galvez replied they were, indeed, hostages “kasi kasama sila Maute and Maute rin nag-turn over sa negotiators” (because they were held by the Maute and Maute turned them over to the negotiators).
MindaNews verified with the emissary on the status of the five rescued and he confirmed they were hostages and that they were handed over to them because Maute had declined to release the Catholic priest.
“Yung nakukuha namin yun ang trapped civilians” (What we have been getting are trapped civilians, Galvez said, adding ‘trapped civilians’ are those who were “nakapagtago at nakalabas at hindi naging under custody ng Maute” (able to hide and flee and were never under the custody of the Maute). He said 45 civilians were rescued on Saturday.
Galvez said they actually extended the 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. “humanitarian pause” for four more hours or until 6 p.m. for those already inside the conflict zone but the emissary’s team “returned at 4 pm. with five hostages and a cadaver of an Imam, so we lifted the humanitarian pause at 4 p.m.”
The Imam was identified as Hassan B. Ali. The emissary said the Imam passed away apparently due to illness several days ago.
8 hours, 90 minutes, 10 hours
The government on Saturday night declared an eight-hour “humanitarian pause” from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, June 25, in deference to Eid’l Fitr, the end of the month-long Ramadan.
But a series of delays hampered the mission that was expected to have rescued the remaining 300 to 500 residents trapped in the conflict zone since clashes started there on May 23.
The rescue teams took off from the Provincial Capitol compound only at 12:34 noon, with only 90 minutes left of the ceasefire that was supposed to have ended at 2 p.m.
Only Team 3, composed of the emissary and religious leaders, managed to enter the conflict zone. Teams 1 and 2, composed of ten volunteers from the MILF in the GPH-MILF’s Joint Coordinating, Monitoring and Assistance Center (JCMAC) waited at the processing area for rescued residents at Agus 1, along with journalists, for the go signal from Team 3 if they could already get inside the conflict zone.
The emissary arrived at the processing area en route to the conflict zone at 12:57 p.m. or an hour before the supposed 2 p.m. deadline and finally moved to that zone around 1:15 p.m. after asking for megaphones.
Team 3’s mission was not to call out on trapped civilians but to go direct to Maute. It was the role of Teams 1 and 2 to use the megaphones and call on trapped residents and help them leave the area as they did on June 4.
At 1:58 p.m. the sound of mortar fire could be heard, followed by occasional gunburst.
The “humanitarian pause” lapsed at 2 p.m. with Teams 1 and 2 still waiting for a go signal to enter. As Galvez said, it was extended until 6 p.m. but lifted at 4 p.m. when the emissary’s team returned.
In the briefing earlier at the JCMAC office in the Provincial Capitol, compound, Hermoso told Teams 1 and 2 that their main priority is to get the trapped civilians out. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)