The Catholic Bishop of the Territorial Prelature of the besieged city Marawi in southern Philippines, has dismissed as “ridiculous” proposals by terrorist gunmen to negotiate the release of his vicar. Speaking before a gathering of church people in the northern province of Pangasinan on 29 June, Bishop Edwin de la Pena said "there is no way we can dialogue" with extremists. The Prelate of Marawi said that for the past four decades the Catholic Church's response to war and conflicts in the southern region of Mindanao is dialogue. "We can only dialogue with like-minded people," he told the gathering called the Solidarity Congress for Persecuted Christians. The gathering was sponsored by “Aid to the Church in Need”, a pontifical foundation of the Catholic Church that supports victims of persecution.
Islamist Maute terrorists who claim to have links with the Islamic State (IS), attacked the city of Marawi on May 23 and burned the city's Catholic cathedral, a Protestant school, and took hostage Catholic priest Teresito Suganob, the vicar of Marawi Prelature, and several church workers hostage. Bishop de la Pena was out of town when the violence broke out.
The government of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday ruled out negotiations with the Islamist Maute militants holding hostages in Marawi, after reports that a leader of the group wanted to trade Fr. Suganub for his parents being held by police. Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said there would be no deals with the Maute group because that was against government policy, and anyone trying to bargain had no authority to do so. Authorities believe Fr. Soganub and more than 100 other Christians are being held in by the militants in Marawi as human shields.
Bishop de la Pena said the Church should "choose the kind of people that we will have a dialogue with." He said people who have fallen victim to extremism, those who "experience so much pain ... are all the people who are open to have a dialogue with us."
In a statement, Aid to the Church in Need said the gathering was "timely" because of the ongoing conflict in Marawi. The Catholic group said "awareness of the situation of persecuted Christians" in Mindanao is necessary before Filipinos can express solidarity with "suffering fellow Christians."
Mindanao has long been a hotbed of local insurgencies and separatist movements: but now, Islamist fighters from Malaysia, Indonesia and other countries are reported to have converged in Mindanao, stoking fears that it could become a regional stronghold of Islamic State.
More than 90 percent of the Philippines' 100 million people are Christian, and most of the Muslims of the Philippines live on the island of Mindanao, the Sulu Archipelago and Palawan. In 1980 Marawi proclaimed itself an "Islamic City" and it is the only city in the country with that designation.
The battle for control of the city entered its sixth week with intense bombing raids by military planes on a shrinking terrorist-held zone. On June 28, at least 17 civilian bodies were recovered by the military from the besieged city. The bodies were in addition to the 27 civilians earlier confirmed killed when fighting broke out last month. The conflict has so far resulted in the deaths of at least 299 terrorists and 71 soldiers and policemen. Some 2,700 civilians have been rescued from the battle zone while about 300,000 individuals remain in evacuation centers in nearby areas. (Source: UCAN/...)