ZAMBOANGA CITY: A Catholic priest, one of allegedly 240 civilians being held by militants in Marawi City, begged President Rodrigo Duterte to immediately withdraw thousands of soldiers from Lanao del Sur province.
Fr. Chito Suganob made the appeal in a video that surfaced on Facebook. The five-minute clip went viral on social media. In the video, Suganob, the vicar general of the Marawi prelature, said militants seized him, along with other church workers, including children and adults, mostly Christians, when members of the Maute group attacked the city on May 23.
“We are victims Mr. President, if you have a good heart for us considering, Mr. President, about 240 prisoners of war are asking your good heart, please consider us, we want to live another day, we want live another month, we want to live few years,” Suganob said.
Behind the priest can be seen ruins of buildings destroyed in fierce clashes between soldiers and members of the Maute Group.
Suganob asked Duterte to stop the military assault and to order security forces to quickly leave Marawi and Lanao del Sur, one of five provinces under the Muslim autonomous region.
“Mr. President, I was taken as a prisoner of war together with one MSU female professor – the Mindanao State University – two lady church workers, two male teachers of Dansalan College Foundation Inc. and five female teachers of Dansalan College Foundation Inc. With us are about 200 carpenters, household helpers, children and youth and ordinary Christian settlers and other Subanon tribes,” he said.
“Mr. President, we are in the midst of this war, we are asking your help to please give what your enemies are asking for – withdraw your forces away from Lanao del Sur and Marawi City and stop the air strikes, your air attacks and stop the canons,” he added.
The priest warned that the militants “are ready to die for their religion.”
“Mr. President we ask you please consider us, we are in the midst of war, we are victims, do not be happy that we are the collateral damage of war, we are already victims of heavy gunfire for seven days. If you want me to kneel before you just to have your heart in favor of our families, who are crying out there in different places, for our relatives and for those other 240, Mr. President we will do that,” Suganob said.
There was no immediate statement from the military on the priest’s appeal, but there were no signs troops were pulling out from the city as clashes continue without letup.
On Tuesday, the army claimed that at least 65 militants had been killed since the fighting began and that 42 bodies were recovered by soldiers, although journalists covering the war have not confirmed this report.