Back channel talks on to secure release of hostages. Civil Society organizations helping to secure release. Widespread prayers for release of Priest and others.

Release of hostages sought.

PICS Courtesy:

PICS Courtesy:

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The government announced two days ago that they had wrested control of Marawi City from the Islamists who had captured the city recently. But, the crisis is not yet over. Before retreating, the militants had taken hostages that included the Marawi City’s vicar general, Fr. Teresito “Chito” Suganob.

Hence, the efforts are now concentrated o saving the hostages. The government is utilizing the services of civil society organizations for facilitating their release. The Islamic State released a video on Telegram Channel which they regularly utilize.

In the video Vicar General, Fr. Teresito “Chito” Suganob appealed to President Duterte to do as the terrorists demanded. He also informed that he was captive along with 200 others with the battle zone in Marawi.

Alternative route

Spokesperson for the Army Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, addressed a press briefing in Malacañang on Wednesday. He revealed that efforts to secure the release of the hostages were currently in progress.

They nabbed the Catholic Priest Suganob from the Cathedral of Our Lady Help of Christians on May 23. The Maute Group also rounded up 10 worshippers and three church workers.

However, the official stand taken by the President was that he would not deal with terrorists. This was in response to reports that he was amenable to a dialogue with the kidnappers. I fact, he had announced that he would only deal with two Moro groups.

That was because Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) had signed pacts with the government. The President was addressing the Anniversary celebrations of the Philippine Navy in Davao City.

Army Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla clarified that back channel talks did not amount to negotiating with terrorists. It was only a joint effort with civil society to save as many lives as possible, he said.

The beginning

The siege of Marawi City began with a government attack in Marawi to nab Ismilon Hapillon who is a know leader of the bandits. However, the raid to arrest the veteran leader led to the resistance by heavily armed terrorists who held the fort. Pushed to the back foot, the rebels called for reinforcements that led to the siege of the complete town.

Furthermore, Ismilon Hapillon is on the most wanted list of terrorists by the United States. He is responsible for conducting bomb attacks and kidnappings for the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). He is famous for his attacks on Americans and stays in Marawi.

Moreover, Padilla stated that according to intelligence sources, Ismilon is still in Marawi.

But, the troops have managed to clear about 90% of Marawi though more than 1000 people remain trapped within the battle zone.
Official estimates of casualties are as follows:
• 25 government forces,
• 90 militants, and
• About 20 civilians.

The likable priest

Furthermore, it is stated by the Armed Forces that Suganob being a religious leader himself is popular with Muslim circles too. He has been doing beneficial work for Christians and Muslims alike. In the process, he seems to be quite popular with people of all religions.

As such, there must be leaders I the Muslim Community who would be willing to speak for him and secure his release unharmed. Those Muslim leaders who were associated with Suganob on several projects should now come to his rescue, Padilla said.

The video clip displayed by the Islamic State had mixed reactions from among Suganob’s friends, relatives and well wishers. Some expressed satisfaction that the priest was alive. Others felt sadness that such a good man of god should be suffering this way.

Therefore, the community and residents are all praying for his safe return home. Appeals are being sent by congregations and community leaders to get Suganob released safe and sound.

However, their opinion about the likely response by President Duterte was clear. Much as they would like Duterte to negotiate, they know that it was highly unlikely.

However, the general feeling of the people is that giving in to the demands of the Maute will give them the upper hand.

Furthermore, Suganob is also a family man who maintains close relationships with his place of birth, Norala in South Cotabato.

In addition, he attends all family functions at Lambunao.

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Umrao Singh
Written for: Lars-Magnus Carlsson
Thursday, 01 June 2017