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MARAWI CITY, Philippines (ChurchMilitant.com) - Filipino forces freed St. Mary's Cathedral from ISIS-affiliated rebels on August 25.
The cathedral is located in Marawi City on the island of Mindanao. Government soldiers, fighting to reclaim the city from Islamic insurgents, found the cathedral desecrated and bullet-ridden, and had to remove several booby-traps.
Nearly 50 hostages are still held captive by the dwindling terrorist force, including Catholic priest Fr. Teresito Soganub. In a press conference Monday, Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez confirmed that Fr. Soganub is still alive as a hostage, debunking recent rumors that the rebels had smuggled the priest out of the city.
Father Soganub was taken hostage on May 24, when Islamic militants stormed the cathedral. Immediately there were threats to behead the priest. On May 31, Church Militant reported on an online video that showed the priest asking the Phillipines' government to respond peacefully.
In a speech Wednesday, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte revealed that he was seeking to negotiate with the Maute group for the hostages' release. He also spoke of tentative plans to bomb the rebels' remaining hideouts.
Nearly 800 people have been killed in Marawi City since the Islamic terrorists captured it in May. The New York Times reports that 300,000 civilians have been driven from their homes during the three-month conflict.
Marawi City is situated in a Muslim stronghold within the Philippines, a nation with a large Catholic majority. The region is a largely autonomous entity governed by former insurgency Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Galvez told reporters that the Maute group held only "400 to 600 square meters" in Marawi City. The military leader predicted that the rebellion would be crushed "in two or three weeks' time." He estimated that there are only 60 terrorists left, but admitted that the rebel gunmen are well-supplied.