MARAWI CITY – The Philippine military said it was not aware of a deal offer by the local ISIS group in the besieged city of Marawi for a prisoner swap – a Catholic priest for the release of at least a dozen fighters, including the parents of the militant leaders facing rebellion charges.
Militants are holding Fr. Chito Suganob and dozens of civilians since May 23 after they launched a daring raid in Marawi and now they wanted Cayamora and Ominta Maute freed in exchange for the priest. The demand was reportedly relayed by Abdullah Maute, one the militant leaders, to a group of ulama sent by the government to talk to the militants.
Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, a military spokesman, said they have no information about the demand. The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines said it is up to the government to decide on the sensitive matter. But Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre said the government does not negotiate with terrorists.
The Western Mindanao Command also did not issue any statement on the ISIS demand and it was not immediately known whether Presidential peace adviser Jesus Dureza is involved or secretly negotiating with the militants for the freedom of the hostages.
The militants also demanded that they be allowed to withdraw from Marawi. This was the same demand they made last month through Suganob who appealed on President Rodrigo Duterte to immediately withdraw thousands of soldiers from Lanao del Sur province.
Suganob made the appeal in a video that surfaced on Facebook and the 5-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.
Behind the ruins of buildings destroyed in fierce clashes and the sound of sporadic gunfire, Suganob made an emotional appeal to Duterte to save all of them, saying, the militants are ready to die for their religion. He asked Duterte to stop military assaults, both in air and on the ground, and for security forces to quickly leave Marawi and Lanao del Sur, one of 5 provinces under the Muslim autonomous region.
Below is the transcript of Suganob’s appeal:
“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 Incorporated and five female teachers of Dansalan College Foundation Incorporated, along with us are about 200 carpenters, household helpers, children and youth and ordinary Christian settlers and other Subanon tribes with us as captives and as prisoners of war.
Mr. President, we are in the midst of this war, we are asking your help to please give what your enemies are asking for – this simply am not asking for anything just to withdraw your forces away from Lanao del Sur and Marawi City and to stop the air strikes, your air attacks and to stop the canons.
Mr. President, from out heart, please consider us. You know it is hard Mr. President from time to time we hear bursts of gunfire from the ground of your enemies, heavy firearms from your side, it’s hard. And Mr. President, we do not ask for anything, we just ask that you leave this place peacefully, do not give so much attack, the city in my background is ruined like this and Mr. President if you are in our place, you will really consider us because you’ll hear the outburst of gunfire and everything, bombs and canons. We are victims and 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, and in your heart, we know you can make something, they do not ask anything Mr. President after all this is their place give them the land and Mr. President, you are attacking from your heart, do not use violence because your enemies they are ready to die for their religion, they are ready to die and their laws will be followed in this place.
Mr. President you are from Mindanao, you know the conflict in Mindanao, you know the problems and I hope Mr. President you understand them. I am also saying these things Mr. President because you know the history; they have the right to live here, they have the right to their own laws be respected and Mr. President, you cannot use force because they have their commitments, they will die for this, they are ready to die for this, Mr. President we ask you please consider us, we are in the midst of war, we are victims, do not be happy Mr. President that we are the collateral damage of war, we are already victims of heavy gunfire for seven days.
Mr. President, 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. So Mr. President, I am asking you consideration.”
There were no signs troops were pulling out from the city as clashes continue without letup. The army claimed nearly 300 militants had been killed since the fighting began. But over a dozen civilians, mostly Christians, had been killed by militants as ground troops, backed by army tanks and air force planes, were searching for jihadists hiding in buildings and houses. (Mindanao Examiner)
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