MARAWI, Philippines (ChurchMilitant.com) - The ISIS-affiliated Maute group in the Philippines is threatening to behead both the Catholic priest and lay faithful the terrorists took hostage Wednesday. Bishop Edwin dela Peña was called by the Muslim militants and told they would kill the priest and hostages if the government continues its military offensive against them. The Philippines military has been battling the ISIS group since Tuesday. On Saturday the government dropped additional bombs on Marawi City, after resorting to surgical air raids on Thursday.
The Catholic Bishops of Mindanao, where Marawi City is located, have said that the martial law declaration of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte must be temporary.
"We have many fears," said Abp. Orlando Quevedo, "but, at present, we simply do not have solid and sufficient facts to absolutely reject the declaration of martial law as morally reprehensible. But we are certainly agreed that martial law must be temporary."
Father Teresito "Chito" Suganob was taken hostage by ISIS in Marawi Cathedral. So far, 46 people — including 15 members of the security forces and 31 militants — have died in the fighting with the Maute group as well as another ISIS group, Abu Sayyaf, and the Filipino military in Marawi City, located in the Lanao del Sur province in the southern Philippines.
The fighting included the use of surgical air strikes, although the military resolved not to use air power on Wednesday. The majority of the 200,000 residents have fled to escape the battle between the military and ISIS.
On Wednesday, Abu Sayyaf stormed Marawi Cathedral and took hostages, including a Catholic priest and worshippers.
This situation developed following eruptions of conflict once the army raided the hide-out of Abu Sayyaf commander, Isnilon Hapilon. Hapilon is an Arabic-speaking Islamic preacher who pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2014. Hapilon was not been captured in the raid, after which militants plowed through the city, burning buildings, including the residence of the bishop, and cut off electricity and raised the Islamic State flag.
Cardinal Luis Tagle released a statement Thursday afternoon pleading for prayers for the besieged city: "We must ask what makes people hurt their neighbor? We cry for you, for all Filipinos and everyone in the world, as many lives are ruined because of this violence."
The Filipino bishops' president, Abp. Socrates Villegas, remarked, "They have threatened to kill the hostages if the government forces unleashed against them are not recalled."
This prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to cut his trip to Russia short and declare martial law throughout the southern region of the country. He has threatened to expand the order to the entire Philippines.
Duterte issued a stark warning to the Islamists in the mostly Muslim city of 200,000 people: "If you fight us, you will die. If there is open defiance, you will die. And if it means many people dying, so be it."
Abu Sayyaf released its first propaganda video in June 2016, seeking to recruit radicalized Muslims in the region.
Muslims make up 5 percent of the population of the Philippines and 99 percent of the city of Marawi. Islam was brought to the Philippines in the 13th and 14th centuries, while the Catholic faith did not arrive until the 16th century. Currently most Filipino Muslims live on the island of Mindanao, where Marawi is located.