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Philippines: Kidnapped Philippines priest 'alive'

05 July 2017

A Catholic priest abducted by terrorists in the Philippines is believed to be still alive. Father Teresito Suganob was among a group of Christians captured by the Maute terrorist group last month. Now, reportedly, his release has been offered in exchange for the parents of the Abdullah Maute, the group's leader.

The offer was conveyed to a group of Muslim religious leaders who spoke with Maute just before an eight-hour ceasefire started to mark the end of Ramadan on Saturday (24 June). However, the Philippines Armed Forces said there were unaware of any such offer. The government arrested both Abdullah's mother, Ominta, and father, Cayamora, earlier this month on charges of collaborating with the terrorist group, which is led by their sons, Abdullah and Omar.

100 Christians still held hostage

A spokesman for the military told reporters yesterday that Father Suganob, 'had been seen alive on Sunday (25 June) in a part of the city still in the hands of the extremists'. According to a resident who was able to escape the city on Friday (23 June), as many as 100 Christians are still being held hostage.

The priest, along with some parishioners, was abducted by the Maute group when they besieged the city on 23May A video was later published in which the priest said he was one of around 200 people being held hostage and in which he asked the President to 'consider' hostages' lives and stop bombing the city.

However, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has said that he will not negotiate with militants aligned with the Islamic State (IS) group - Maute is one of a number of groups in the Mindanao region to have pledged allegiance to IS.

Duterte has said that he has ordered his troops to kill the militants, even at the expense of hostages' lives and vowed to 'crush' IS's presence in the country.

An independent Islamic State

Although the Philippines is a majority-Christian country, the southern island of Mindanao, where Marawi is situated, 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 hope to create an independent Islamic state. An Open Doors fieldworker reports that "Marawi is strategic... If IS succeeds in making Marawi a caliphate, they can easily spread to other provinces."

Their increased activities is a worrying trend. With Islamic State increasingly finding itself driven out of its homelands in Iraq and Syria, there are indications that the group has been looking to other countries. Certainly the Islamic State has been making inroads in the Philippines since Abu Sayyaf declared allegiance in 2015.

The government also claims that at least 268 militants have been killed, eight of whom have been identified as foreign fighters from Malaysia, Indonesia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Chechnya in Russia. This has increased concerns that IS is seeking to establish a foothold in the region.

Churches targeted

Some of their activities are clearly targeted against Christians. Maute militants also attacked a Catholic cathedral in Marawi. Militants from another Islamic group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), destroyed the inside of a chapel in the nearby town of Pigcawayan.

Locals said such attacks could be intended to create division between Catholics and Muslims who currently live together peacefully. From Marawi - where the situation remains dire - there have also been reports of acts of solidarity from Muslims towards Christians, with Muslims reportedly giving Christians hijabs, hiding them in their homes, teaching them Muslim prayers and escorting them out of the city when the militants first attacked.

Source: World Watch Monitor; Open Doors

Please pray:

  • That the hostages would be freed soon
  • For protection over the civilians and that extremist views in the Philippines would not gain ground
  • That the government would act with wisdom and not precipitate more violence.

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