MARAWI CITY (MindaNews / 17 September) — As of 6 p.m. Sunday, the military had yet to issue an official statement to confirm or deny reports that a Catholic priest held hostage by the Maute Group since May 23 “escaped” or was “rescued” along with another hostage, near midnight Saturday but the Prelature of Marawi in a press statement said the priest was undergoing military debriefing.
Saturday was Day 117 of the Marawi Crisis.
“The Prelature of St. Mary’s in Marawi welcomes the news that Fr. Teresito ‘Chito’ Soganub, its Vicar General, has been rescued by the Armed Forces of the Philippines at around 11 p.m. last night, September 16, 2017 near Bato (Ali) Mosque in Marawi City together with one other undisclosed companion,” its press statement read.
It said the entire Duyog Marawi team, an accompaniment journey with the people of Marawi by the Prelature in partnership with the Redemptorists, “exploded with shouts of joy” in the midst of its monthly meeting as Fr. Nono Reteracion, CSsR “read the confirmation from several military personnel.”
“The military will provide us with more details once the debriefing protocol is completed. For the meantime, we pray for the safety and immediate release of the other hostages,” Reteracion said.
Initial reports reaching the media said Soganub, also Acting Rector of the St. Mary’s cathedral and chaplain at the Mindanao State University (MSU) main campus here, and another hostage escaped from their captors near the Bato Ali mosque amid heavy firefight and that as the two were fleeing, they were identified by the military who brought them to a safer place.
The other hostage with Fr. Chito has not been identified.
A news blackout was imposed as no military official responded to the media’s queries early Sunday morning.
But a senior official told MindaNews that the silence of the military was deliberate, that they had agreed that news on Soganub’s freedom be kept under wraps first as troops were still working to rescue at least ten other hostages.
But Secretary Jesus Dureza, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, broke the silence. He announced through his Facebook wall at 7:31 a.m. on Sunday that Soganub was “rescued” at 11 p.m. Saturday near the Bato Ali mosque.
Dureza forwarded the information sent to him by Franklin Quijano, former mayor of Iligan City and now Phividec administrator. Quijano told MindaNews he received the information from his military sources.
Persistent media queries prompted Marine Colonel Edgardo Arevalo, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Public Affairs Office to tell Defense reporters in the national capital shortly before 10 a.m. Sunday that they were “still validating that information. As of now, we cannot still give details. The rescue operation is still ongoing,”
In a statement sent to the Defense Press Corps at 11:41 p.m. on Saturday, Arevalo said the military had “fiercely fought five hours” before taking control of Bato Ali mosque and Amaitul Islamiya Marawi Foundation (JIMF) at 5 p.m. The military described these as “two of the Maute-ISIS Group’s strongholds.”
Arevalo’s near midnight. statement made no mention of Soganub’s alleged rescue at 11 p.m.
At 9:38 a.m. on Sunday, Arevalo issued a three-paragraph statement that they have an ongoing rescue operations at the main battle area, that they “cannot give you details as of now lest we imperil the lives not only of our soldiers but more so that of the hostages.”
“We urge you to wait for the official statement on the matter to be issued by higher authorities,” Arevalo said.
When Defense reporters pressed him about Fr. Chito, Arevalo the said they were “still validating” the information.
Questions have been raised by the media and the public if Fr. Chito escaped, was rescued by the military, was abandoned or released by the Maute Group, if leaders Abdullah Maute and the Abu Sayyaf’s Isnilon Hapilon, the alleged Southeast Asian Emir of the ISIS, are still in Marawi or have escaped.
A resident who was watching the air strikes on the main battle area in downtown Marawi from the MSU golf course here Sunday noon told MindaNews he hopes the fighting will, indeed be over soon.
But the resident, among the 359,680 persons displaced by the war, according to statistics of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, said they hope they will not be told that Marawi has been liberated but the terrorists escaped.
Soganub is expected to be presented to President Rodrigo Duterte soon.
The last time Fr. Chito was seen was on a viral video posted on Facebook last May 30 where he was made to appeal to President Rodrigo Duterte to stop the military operations.
During the ten-hour humanitarian ceasefire on Eid’l Fitr, June 25, the Maute Group’s leader, Abdullah, declined to release Fr. Chito but freed five hostages, including a two-year old girl.
The emissary told MindaNews then that Abdullah had set as condition for the release of Fr. Chito, that their parents, Cayamora and Farhana, be released from prison. The two were arrested separately in early June.
MindaNews’ Bong Sarmiento checked with Fr. Chito’s family in Norala, South Cotabato on Sunday morning but his sister Marilyn Soganub-Ginnivan said they had yet to receive a call from Fr. Chito. MindaNews checked again as of 4 p.m but his sister gave the same response.
MindaNews also checked with Marawi Bishop Edwin dela Peña but he was likely still in transit from Rome where he spoke about Marawi in a conference also attended by Mindanao’s lone Cardinal, Orlando Quevedo.
“I hope I was able to convey to Rome and the whole world the cries and anguish of the people of Marawi, particularly of the hostages and evacuees, and all the victims of the Marawi siege,” the Bishop wrote on September 15.
The Prelature and its Duyog Marawi, however, are ready to welcome home Fr. Chito.
The press statement said they have “laid out a plan for the hostages’ healing and reintegration program once they would be released. This includes a general medical check-up and hospital confinement for their body to recover. After which, a long period of rest and recovery together with trauma therapy will be provided to them.”
The press statement aslo said that while Fr. Chito goes through a healing process, his programs and services at the MSU — chaplaincy, education, interfaith and peacebuilding programs “will be assumed by a combination of seconded priests and lay missionaries from the Redemptorist Missionaries in the Philippines, Caritas Cebu, and the Capiz Archdiocesan Social Action Center in Roxas City.”
The press statement quoted Diovelene Francisco, an MSU student who volunteers fro the Duyog Marawi Communications center for Peace and Advocacy, as saying that Fr. Chito “has always been an inspiration to us all in Marawi. News of his release certainly pushes us more to work for peace in Marawi City.”
A special prayer for peace in Mindanao and Marawi City was organized by the Communita di Sant’ Egidio in Sta. Maria Basilica, Trastevere, Rome on September 15. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)