Nine Christians have been killed and over a dozen taken hostage in Marawi City, where militants from the Maute Group - linked to the so-called Islamic State (IS or ISIS) - have clashed with government forces.
Fighting in this southern city began last Tuesday when government forces attempted to apprehend the leader of Abu Sayyaf (IS in the Philippines), Isnilon Hapilon. Hapilon escaped, but in the wake of the operation, militants from the Maute Group descended upon the city, firing gunshots, and putting up IS flags.
Christians targeted; Open Doors partners rescue 23 families
Open Doors partners and numerous media reports have confirmed that Christians are being targeted by the Maute Group.
Nine Christians were executed by the militants after they tried to pass a checkpoint; a priest, Father Chito Suganob, and 15 of his companions have been taken hostage; and reports continue to surface that Christians are being forced to recite Muslim prayers, and that they are being used as human shields.
An Open Doors worker, Khalil*, says that 23 families of believers have also been rescued from Marawi by Open Doors partners. "They have not fully expressed it, but according to our contacts there, even though they're used to explosions in the south, this is the first time they've experienced an armed conflict where they needed to evacuate... What they need now are clothing, underwear, sanitary napkins, toiletries, blankets, and sleeping mats."
Muslims protect believers
Despite the violence, an Open Doors reporter in the region writes: "Acts of solidarity from Muslims towards Christians abound. Muslim residents have reportedly been giving Christians hijabs, hiding them in their homes, and teaching them Muslim prayers."
Since the fighting began, over 100 people have been killed - over half of whom are militants - and over 55,000 people have been displaced. Three fires broke out on the first day of fighting, razing a city jail, a Christian school, and a chapel - it is unconfirmed whether these were lit by the extremists, or was simply a result of the fighting. Though the Philippine army has made gains against the militants, numbers of hostages, including the Christian hostages, remain missing.
Islamism rises in the Philippines
Though the Philippines does not rank in the top 50 of Open Doors' 2017 World Watch List (a ranking of the countries where Christians face the severest persecution), the rise in militant Islamism and the presence of IS in the south has been a growing cause for concern.
"This is different from the Zamboanga Siege in 2013," says an OD fieldworker, in which Islamist militants attempted to create an independent state. "That was a case of militant group Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) wanting to make themselves known to the government, saying 'We are here!' This time, the Maute Group - or ISIS (we can use the name interchangeably now) - are attacking with the intention to occupy. Marawi is strategic. It's central to Mindanao (the second-largest island in the Philippines). If ISIS succeeds in making Marawi a caliphate, they can easily spread to other provinces."
Evangelical Churches: 'We appeal to the Maute Group to engage in peaceful dialogue'
The Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) has condemned the attacks and calls on the Filipino evangelical community to isolate the terror spread by ISIS from the Islamic community:
"We call on all our constituents not to view the actions of the Maute Group as normative to Islam. The ongoing peace talks of the Government with our Muslims brothers and sisters exemplify that there abound peace loving adherents of the Islamic faith. We appeal to the Maute Group to engage in peaceful dialogue instead of using violent means. We also appeal to them as fellow human beings and citizens of this nation to immediately release all hostages unharmed, which include the parish priest Father Teresito 'Chito' Suganob."