09/18/2017, 14.37
PHILIPPINES
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Marawi: Fr. Chito, free after 4 months

by Santosh Digal

The Filipino army intervened near the mosque of the terrorists stronghold of Bato. Joy for his release. The conflict is about to end, but the city is destroyed. Plans for reconstruction. Mindanao bishops condemn terrorism.

Manila (AsiaNews) - Fr Teresito "Chito" Suganob, held in hostage by the pro-Isis Maute terrorist group, was released by the Philippine army on the night of September 16th, according to government sources.

The presidential peace councilor, Jesus Dureza, reports that the priest had been captured on May 23, at the outbreak of the crisis in the town of Marawi, provincial capital of Lanao del Sur, in the south of the Philippines. Fr. Chito was freed by the military from the mosque of Bato, one of the Maute strongholds. Together with him, a second hostage was released by the authorities, but they did not want to reveal the name.

Fr Chito, Vicar General of the Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians, was kidnapped along with other parishioners.

The rescue took place during the recovery of the mosque of Bato and the Amaitul Islamiya Marawi Foundation (Jimf) by members of the Marawi joint task force. Colonel Edgard Arevalo, head of the Philippine Armed Forces public affairs office, said: "It took five hours of fierce clashes before government forces defeated terrorists strategically positioned around the Jimf Mosque."

On May 30, a video appeared in social media showing Fr. Chito asking President Rodrigo Duterte to save him and the other hostages. In the film, he claimed to be detained as a prisoner of war along with other Church employees, a professor at Mindanao State University, some teachers at Dansalan Collage Foundation Inc., carpenters, housewives, children, Christian settlers, and tribe members . The military are still verifying the authenticity of that video.

At 7 am on September 14, the toll of people killed in the conflict was 670 Armed Mautes, 47 civilians and 147 government officials. Violence has also forced thousands of people to flee and destroyed large areas of the once lively city.

With the conflict seemingly coming to an end and the troops engaged in clearing operations, government officials report that it is presumed that Marawi's reconstruction will require billions of Philippine pesos. President Duterte has said that the first $ 50 billion fund [about 820 thousand euros] will not be enough to rebuild the city, after a four-month battle between government troops and terrorists.

Three battalions of military engineers are clearing some portions of the battlefield. Violent fighting left the buildings ruined, with walls filled with bullet holes.

 

Government authorities could take two weeks from now to accurately determine what is needed to rehabilitate Marawi.

Foreign aid is likely to be used for reconstruction. On September 15, Australia promised a billion pesos, the United States 730 million, Thailand 100 million, China 85 million (of which 70 to be used for the treatment of soldiers injured in action and 15 for the reconstruction of Marawi ), and the European Union 49 million.

On May 23, following the clashes between the army and terrorist groups, Duterte had declared martial law across the island of Mindanao.

Archbishop Martin Jumoad of Ozamiz expressed joy for the release of Fr. Chito.  He said, asserting that it is "the result of our confidence in prayer". He added, "Many prayed for his freedom. So many masses were celebrated with this intention. The power of prayer is once again shown as a testimony to our solid faith in God. "

In May, the Catholic bishops of Mindanao had appealed for the release of the priest and parishioners who had been caught by the Mautes, urging people to pray for his release and for the victims of the conflict. They also condemned the terrorist attacks, pointing out that terrorism "distorts and falsifies the true meaning of religion".

For Msgr. Orlando Quevedo, Archbishop of Cotabato, terrorism "destroys harmony among people of different religions" and "creates a world of suspicion and prejudice, hatred and hostility." "We condemn terrorism in its most varied ways in the most absolute way. It is an ideology that is totally contrary to all principles of any religion of peace. Especially when terrorism is perpetrated while our Muslim brothers and sisters prepare for the sacred month of Ramadan."

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