Catholic Filipino priest Teresito “Chito” Suganob may have been freed, but the war in the southern city of Marawi is not over yet, as 40 hostages are still being held by militants in the city, while almost half a million Marawi residents are internally displaced.
Father Suganob arrived in the capital, Manila, after he was rescued late on Saturday (16 September) amidst heavy fighting between the insurgent Maute group and the Philippines military. The priest told reporters in Manila that, despite his 117-day ordeal, he didn’t want to escape but rather to “share the fate of those kidnapped until the end”.
The priest, who turned 57 during his captivity, on 1 August, thanked the armed forces and “all those who prayed for us and for our release” and asked Filipinos to pray for the remaining hostages.
He also said he sees his future only in Marawi, where he said he wants to work to build peace, after taking some time to recover. “Christians and Muslims believe in one God; we want to live in peace,” he said.
The Bishop of Marawi, Edwin De La Pena, told Catholic news agency Fides that “Fr. Chito’s release gives us further hope for the release of the other hostages, including other Catholic faithful”. World Watch Monitor reported last month that, according to a former escapee, the group of hostages still held by the Maute militants included women, as well as children.
In a statement released on 19 September, Bishop De La Pena said that it was impossible to be “happy, knowing that there are still many hostages that remain in captivity, that 360,000 internally displaced persons still suffer and long to go home, and that hundreds of thousands of people grieve for the loss of their beautiful, beloved city”.
Approximately 40 per cent of the city has been destroyed in the four months of fighting that started on 23 May when the Maute group besieged the city, abducting Father Suganob and 13 other Christians.
Although the Philippines is a majority-Christian country, the southern island of Mindanao has a strong Muslim presence and is home to a number of violent extremist groups – including Maute, Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters – that all seek the island’s independence, hoping to create an independent Islamic state.