ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews / 02 August) — Fr. Teresito “Chito” Soganub’s friends in peacebuilding gathered at Tabes Place in Iligan City on Saturday, August 1, to pay tribute to the “martyr of interfaith dialogue” on what would have been his 60th birthday.
Fr. Chito died in his sleep on July 22 in their ancestral home in Norala, South Cotabato. His remains will be buried in Norala on Monday, August 3.
The priest who escaped from the Islamic State-inspired Maute Group after 117 days in captivity in Marawi in 2017, was chair of Iligan City-based Pakigdait alang sa Pag Amoma sa Kalinaw, Inc. or Pakigdait.
Roger Patindol, one of at least 120 persons hostaged by the Maute Group and its allies during the five-month siege in Marawi in 2017, said he drew strength from Fr. Chito during those days in captivity.
“Samtang naa mi sa Bato Ali Mosque, diha ko nakakuha og hugot nga pagtoo ug paglaum kang Father Chito Soganub diin normal og simple ra kaayo sya isa iyang pagkatawo og walay kahadlok (While we were in the Bato Ali Mosque, I drew strength from Fr. Chito to continue believing and hoping. He was a simple man and was fearless),” Patindol said.
He said he was able to escape but was re-captured near Lake Lanao when his right calf was hit by a sniper.
Patindol was with 16 other hostages, including Noelita Cusap, a teacher from Dansalan College, who managed to escape on October 4, 2017, a few weeks after Fr. Chito escaped with another hostage.
At the end of his tribute, he rendered a salute facing Fr. Chito’s standee.
“I have been traumatized of my ordeal but through the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross, I have recovered from my nightmare. Though sometimes when I am not busy, the images of war disturb my peace of mind.”
The ICRC shouldered the surgery and replacement for an artificial leg.
Noelita Cusap, a retired teacher of Dansalan College said they were “filled with fear and careful for our safety and hopeful that we will be freed soon as we continued to experience the bombings .Father Chito Soganub was a person who was filled with kindness, humility , and patience.”
“He followed what the captors wanted him to. He did it because of our safety. He showed us patience, patience to wait for the time for us to escape and to be rescued,” Cusap said.
Patindol said a group of female hostages had a chance to write the word “Help” on white cloth using a lipstick and displayed it on a window while a military drone was hovering. Later, the drone went back and dropped a mobile phone to the captives and used it as means of communication with the military that led to the rescue.
For Musa Mohamad Sanguila, Secretary of the Board of Interfaith Leaders of Pakigdait, said Fr. Chito was “part of our family.”
“He called my mother Ina. There were a lot stories about Fr. Chito,” said Sanguila who sang “You’ve got a friend,” during the tribute.
Abelardo Moya, Project Director of Pakigdait, said Fr. Chito’s name is “synonymous to grassroots interfaith peacebuilding.”
Moya said Fr. Chito’s 117 days in captivity “did not stop him from relating to other faiths and cultures. He taught me that working with other faiths would not diminish your faith but strengthen it. “
In Camp Bilal in Sitio KuraKura in Munai, Lanao del Norte, also on Saturday, the second day of the celebration of Eid’l Adha (Feast of Sacrifice), Abdullah Macapaaar alias Kumander Bravo of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), now Member of Parliament of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, also remembered Fr. Chito.
“Matagal na kaming magkaibigan ni Father Chito Soganub kasama si Mohammad Musa Sanguila at Abel Moya sa Pakigdait Incorporated. Malaki ang naitulong ni Father Chito sa pagpalaganap at pagpapairal sa kapayapaan sa Lanao del Norte at sa buong Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao sa pamamagitan nga usaping pangkayapaan” (Fr. Chito Soganub and I have been friends for a long time along with Mohammad Musa Sanguila and Abel Moya of Pakigdait. Fr. Chito helped much in promoting peace in Lanao del Norte and in the entire Bangsamoro region).
“Kahit patay na si Father Chito, buhay na buhay ang kanyang mga magandang ala-ala at legasiya na hindi natin pweding makalimutan” (Even if Fr. Chito is dead, his good memories and legacy live on and will not be forgotten), Macapaar said.
Lt. Col. Domingo Dulay Jr., commanding Officer of the 4th Mechanized Infantry Battalion, said the priest touched many lives, especially his fellow captives, during his 117 days as hostage.
“As a soldier, our primary skill is war fighting but I would say it should be accompanied by peace building. I always believe that whatever the situation is, whatever misunderstanding , I always believe in dialogue,” he said.
When the Task Force Bangon Marawi announced earlier this month that the Bato Ali Mosque would be demolished on July 16 and replaced by a new one, Soganub, in a text message said, the mosque was a “living witness how I faced death a thousand times” and how he experienced escaping death by an inch from ”bullets, shrapnels, rubbles of airstrikes and field artillery.”
He said the mosque was where he spent most of his time in captivity. From May 23, 2017, they were transferred to the mosque on June 6 and spent 103 days there until his escape.
“Of my 117 days, 103 days were spent in that sacred place … (which) protected me, the priest of the Christians, protected by the Muslims’ holy place. God makes mysteries in the field of inter-religious dialogue,” he added.
Fr. Chito said he visited Ground Zero eight times since he regained his freedom and every time he visited the mosque, “I cried and offered thanksgiving prayers with an acknowledgment that Bato Masjid is a special structure for me, it protected me, it is an essential part of my life.”
“Tomorrow, July 16, when you will be (demolished) and replaced…You will have a new life. I suffered seeing you heavily damaged by airstrikes, cannons, bullets of high power guns because you caught those bullets, plane bombs, cannon balls so that I will be safe. Thank you, I owe my survival to you,” he said.
Assistant Secretary Felix Castro, Field Office Manager of Task Force Bangon Marawi, on Sunday told MindaNews that the demolition of Bato Ali Mosque was still on hold pending completion of the construction of a museum in Barangay Dansalan.
Castro said part of the minaret of the mosque will be preserved as peace monument near the museum. (Richel V. Umel / MindaNews)