Manila: Father Teresito “Chito” Suganob, a priest held hostage by the Maute is still alive in Marawi City, officials said on Monday as government forces resumed operations in the city following a brief pause on Sunday.
“Based on information provided by some of the hostages rescued on Sunday, Father Chito is still alive,” Lt Col Jo-Ar Herrera, spokesperson of the military Task Force Marawi said on TV during the daily update on the situation in the Southern Philippines’ city.
“Yesterday he was seen alive together with the other hostages held by the Maute,” Herrera said, adding that they still have no details about Suganob’s health.
Suganob and some parishioners were held hostage when Maute gunmen barged into the Saint Mary Cathedral in Marawi City on May 23, the first day of the crisis.
The churchgoers were observing the last day of the nine-day novena when the extremists entered and destroyed the cathedral while burning down the Bishop’s Residence.
On May 30, a video of Suganob appeared in a Facebook post, in which he appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte to order for a stop to the military offensive.
“Mr President, please consider us,” the priest says in the video. “They don’t ask for anything. they just ask that you leave this place peacefully.”
The military dismissed Suganob’s appeal as propaganda by the Maute.
Meanwhile, the armed forces resumed full operations against the Maute after observing a brief eight-hour pause in observance of Eid Al Fitr in the predominantly Muslim Marawi City.
From 6am to 2pm government forces observed a pause in its air and ground offensive as a humanitarian gesture and allow rescue workers to recover more people still trapped in the conflict zone.
Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said the Humanitarian Pause resulted in the rescue of six civilians and the recovery of a body of a civilian victim who was killed by the Maute.
According to Herrera, government forces had liberated much of Marawi from the control of the Maute with only four villages in the hands of the extremists.
“We are making progress but it is slow because of the presence of improvised explosive devices used as booby traps which is hampering troop movement. We have to be careful. Aside from that we had to contend with sniper fire,” he said.
From the heavy volume of fire during the first several days of the crisis in Marawi City, gunfire has been fewer and far between.
Some leaders of the Maute including one of its leaders, Omarkhayam Maute, has been reportedly killed in the fighting and bombardment as well as Malaysian Mahmoud Bin Ahmad, reportedly, the financier of the attack in Marawi City, Gen. Eduardo Ano, armed forces chief, said earlier.
Authorities are also trying to confirm reports, that Isnilon Hapilon, the Abu Sayyaf-Basilan faction leader who took part and helped plan the Marawi City attack, has already fled the city.
“Without the heads, it would be difficult for the Maute to control their forces. It would only be a matter of time before we declare an end to the operations,” Herrera said.