MARAWI CITY, Philippines (ChurchMilitant.com) - A famous Filipino priest was liberated by government forces on Saturday after four months of captivity by ISIS-inspired rebels.
Father Teresito Soganub, known affectionately as "Fr. Chito," was taken hostage on May 24 when Islamic terrorists stormed St. Mary's Cathedral in Marawi City. During the first week of his captivity, there were threats to behead Fr. Soganub, and a video surfaced online of the captive priest, pleading with government officials for a peaceful solution.
Father Soganub and a schoolteacher were rescued by Filipino government soldiers in a special operation late Saturday. The news of Fr. Soganub's liberation was shared in press conferences and on social media, and he appeared at a Monday news conference in Manila, the densely-populated capital of the Philippines. Father Soganub's hair and beard were extremely long and disheveled, resulting from his 118 days as a hostage.
President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines confirmed to reporters that the priest and the schoolteacher were rescued by a military operation, not by negotiating with the terrorists.
Government officials and military leaders were silent on the details of the rescue in an effort to hinder retaliation from the Muslim insurgents.
Officials also announced that military forces reclaimed a mosque that the terrorists had been using as a command center.
Marawi City has an overwhelming Muslim majority as part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Even before the insurgency, the city operated under a modified form of Sharia law, leaving out corporal punishments that are illegal in the Philippines and exempting non-Muslims from certain obligations.
Government forces have been beating back the ISIS-inspired insurrection since May. The conflict, known as the Siege of Marawi, has devastated Marawi and the surrounding region, killing over 800 and displacing over 300,000.
The terrorist organization in question is known as the Maute group. It is named after Omarkhayam Maute and Abdullah Maute, a pair of brothers who spearheaded the violent rebellion that burst out in Marawi City in May. The group calls itself the Islamic State of Lanao and flies the same flag as ISIS. There is even evidence that the group is financially supported by ISIS.
The Filipino government is successfully beating back the insurrection. In a press conference Sunday, second-in-command Col. Romeo Brawner said that there are about 80 rebel gunmen remaining, holding about 40 hostages.
It was also revealed that the Maute group has pressured some of its hostages into joining the fight. The Philippines' first-in-command, Gen. Eduardo Año, sent a clear warning to the insurgency's small remnant. "We urge the remaining terrorists," he said, "especially former hostages turned fighters to ... surrender while they still have time."
St. Mary's Cathedral, where Fr. Soganub was first captured by the Maute group, was liberated by Filipino government troops on August 25. Videos in June had shown Maute group militants desecrating a statue and engaging in other vandalism inside the cathedral. At a news conference celebrating the cathedral's liberation, military spokespersons described the vandalism but also displayed holy objects, such as chalices and a crucifix, that had been virtually untouched.