Marawi: Maute ready to release Fr Chito, but Manila refuses to negotiate
Abdullah Maute is willing to release the priest if the authorities release his parents and relatives. “The government’s policy is not to negotiate with terrorists,” presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said. “We knew from the start that they don’t want to negotiate,” Marawi Bishop Edwin de la Peña noted. Terrorists say they are ready to pull back if the MILF intervenes. Government losses rise to 70. About 100 guerrillas still occupy Lilod, Bangolo, Raya Madaya and Marinaut. The army changes strategy.
Zamboanga (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Filipino government has rejected an offer from Abdullah Maute, one of the leaders of the terrorist group that has been holed up in the city of Marawi since 23 May, to release Fr Teresito “Chito” Suganob in exchange for his parents and relatives, captured by the armed forces and now in government custody.
Mgr Edwin de la Peña, bishop of Marawi, said the decision to deal or not with terrorists is up to the government, noting that the Catholic Church will not take part in any negotiations for the release of Fr Chito and other hostages, seized during the attack against the Catholic cathedral at the start of the conflict.
Father Chito, vicar general of the Prelature of St Mary in Marawi and chaplain at Mindanao State University (MSU), was abducted by militants linked to the Islamic State along with two church workers and a dozen parishioners.
In a video released by Maute guerrillas on 30 May, the priest said he was part of a group of about 240 hostages. According to local sources, most of them are Christian and tribal.
On Sunday, eight Muslim leaders met with Abdullah Maute on behalf of Filipino authorities during a ceasefire of eight hours ordered by the Armed Forces to allow Marawi residents to celebrate the Islamic festivity of Eid al- Fitr.
The terrorist leader told government emissaries that his group was willing to pull back from the city if the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) intervened to put an end to the crisis.
MILF spokesperson Von Al Haq said his group was willing to intervene, but it wanted to consult its counterpart in the government first.
MILF rebels, who are an authoritative voice for Mindanao Muslims, have recently moved away from Maute’s Mideast-styled terrorism, which is far from the autonomous aspirations of the local population.
The group is involved in peace talks with the government, and has expressed its readiness to fight the Maute, alongside Filipino soldiers.
Ghadzali Jaafar, MILF’s vice chair for Political Affairs, launched an appeal on 5 June for the release of Fr Chito and other hostages.
A source told the Inquirer that Abdullah Maute was willing to release Fr Chito on the condition that his parents will be freed as well.
On 7 June, the armed forces arrested Cayamora Maute, the father of the brothers leading the terrorist group, and his second wife at a military checkpoint in Davao.
Two days later, police arrested Ominta “Farhana” Maute, the brothers’ mother, in Masiu, Lanao del Sur.
On 18 June, Farida and Al Jadid Romato, cousins of the Mautes, and Abdul Rahman Dimacula, Farida’s boyfriend, were arrested in the port of Iloilo City.
“The government’s policy is not to negotiate with terrorists,” presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said in a press briefing today.
“We knew from the start that they don’t want to negotiate,” Marawi Bishop Edwin de la Peña told Radyo Veritas afterwards.
Meanwhile, fighting in Marawi is now in its fifth week. Military leaders said yesterday that Maute's resistance is beginning to weaken.
However, Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera, spokesperson for the military’s 1st Infantry Division, noted the fighting was not over yet. About 90 to 100 gunmen remained holed up in various parts of four villages—Lilod, Bangolo, Raya Madaya and Marinaut.
The government’s losses in the Marawi crisis rose to 70 on Sunday, prompting changes in the fighting strategies of the military, which is relatively new to urban warfare.
Trained in jungle warfare – fighting communist rebels or Moro insurgents on open battlefields – Filipino troops have proven vulnerable to the Maute’s close-quarter-battle tactics in Marawi City.
What should have been a quick clearing operation in May has turned into a siege since the soldiers cannot just storm the terrorists’ positions since civilians are trapped in the battle zone.