Fr. Teresito “Chito” Suganob in a still taken from a video shortly after his release.
Fr. Teresito “Chito” Suganob, in a still taken from a video shortly after his release.

On the anniversary of his escape, the Catholic priest held hostage for four months by an Islamist group in the southern Philippines city of Marawi says he has since found a new lease of life, reports Catholic news agency UCAN.

Father Teresito Suganob was one of around 200 people taken hostage when Islamists stormed the city on 23 May, 2017.

He escaped on 16 September amidst heavy fighting between the Islamic State-affiliated Maute group and the Philippines military.

He remembers how he and a teacher at a local college escaped from a mosque and walked in the middle of the night through streets littered with dead bodies.

“It was the greatest fear I’ve ever felt,” he told UCAN. “I was afraid the terrorists might see and shoot us. I was also afraid we would be mistaken by [government forces] for their enemies.”

On 16 September, he sent a message to his fellow escapee: “Congratulations, we are already one year old today in our second life.”

He celebrated his new lease of life with Mass and dinner with friends, relatives and neighbours.

But he said he is still traumatised by what happens. “I have a wound that is very deep,” the priest said.

Earlier this year he said the fear he felt as bombs exploded around him was “very devastating. Your inner being is destroyed”.

Father Suganob now travels around the country, speaking about the need for inter-religious dialogue and understanding between Muslims and Christians. He says he is particularly committed to achieving peace in the restive southern region of Mindanao, something he has been working on for the last 23 years.

“I will continue to work for peace. It is what I have wanted to do since I was young,” he told UCAN. “Life is short, and we have to make good use of it.”

In July President Rodrigo Duterte gave his backing to the Bangsamoro Organic Law, which is to facilitate the creation of a new of a new autonomous Muslim region in the southern Philippines, named Bangsamoro after its ethnic Muslim, or “Moro”, people.

Earlier this month Christian leaders submitted a “Christian policy agenda” to the transitory body that will facilitate the formation of the new region. Islamist groups have been engaged in an insurgency for an independent province in the southern Philippines for decades.

The new autonomous region is seen as key in ending almost 50 years of conflict which, according to UCAN, “has killed more than 120,000 people and displaced about two million others”.