Netizen 24 NGA: Priest rescued as Army captures Maute base

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Priest rescued as Army captures Maute base

Skip to main content Headlines ( Leaderboard Top ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1 Priest rescued as Army captures Maute base By Edith Regalado (The Philippine Star) | Updated September 18, 2017 - 12:00am Smoke billows from houses after aerial bombings by Philippine Air Force planes on Maute terrorists’ positions in Marawi yesterday. Inset shows Fr. Teresito Suganob minutes after his rescue on Saturday night, in an image taken from GMA News. AFP

DAVAO CITY, Philippines â€" A Catholic priest held hostage for months by the Maute group was rescued by government troops on Saturday as they moved closer in rooting out the terrorists in Marawi City.

Troops captured the command center of the Maute terrorists and rescued two hostages, including Fr. Teresito “Chito” Suganob, the priest who had been held captive for nearly four months since the conflict began on May 23.

The rescue came a few minutes after the troops overran Bato Mosque, the second grand mosque in Marawi City used by the terrorists as their command center.

Troops also recaptured the Amaitul Islamiya Marawi Foundation (JIMF) on Saturday.

“It was a fiercely fought five hours before government security forces subdued the terrorists who were s trategically located in the buildings in the periphery of the mosque and the JIMF,” said Col. Edgard Arevalo, chief of the Public Affairs Office of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

The military though has yet to confirm if Suganob was among the hostages rescued during the assault. The other hostage was identified as Lordvin Ocopio, a teacher of Dansalan College in Marawi.

President Duterte hailed the troops as he was immediately informed of the rescue of the two hostages on Saturday night.

The President did not announce Suganob’s rescue while he was giving a short talk at the Matina Enclaves Residences where he met with the police officer freed by communist rebels last Friday.

Duterte was further briefed on the situation in Marawi later that night.

Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza announced the rescue of Suganob in his Facebook post yesterday.

He quoted his staff Franklin Quijano in Marawi as saying Suganob and another hostage were rescued by the military during an assault at the Bato Mosque on Saturday.

When asked to confirm, Dureza told ABS-CBN to wait for the official announcement from the military and Malacañang, saying it might compromise the military operation in Marawi.

The military in the region led by Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) chief Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez refused to confirm the rescue.

“Sorry, we cannot reveal further information. It might put the lives of the remaining hostages at risk. The rescue operations are still ongoing,” he said.

Malacañang also refused to comment on the rescue.

“As per guidance from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, we refrain from making comments on the latest developments in the main battle area of Marawi at this time; as ongoing operations may be jeopardized, as well as the lives of the remaining hostages, or soldiers in the frontlines,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said.

“We will p rovide information and other pertinent details as soon as conditions on the ground allow us. Thank you for your understanding,” he added.

Abella clarified the government is not imposing a news blackout on the Marawi crisis.

“(There is) no such thing. Malacañang will not provide comments on recent developments like the rescue of hostages so as not to complicate matters on the ground,” he said.

Assemblyman Zia Alonto Adiong of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao said they received reports Suganob was rescued late Saturday.

“But we don’t have official confirmation yet from the Task Force Marawi and the Westmincom,” said Adiong, spokesman for the Lanao del Sur provincial crisis management committee.

Even as the authorities have yet to confirm the rescue of Suganob, Catholic bishops in Mindanao welcomed this as an answered prayer.

“We thank the soldiers. This is an answered prayer. We really prayed for this and now that he’s free, thanks be to God,” Iligan Bishop Elenido Galido said.

Ozamiz Archbishop Martin Jumoad also believed Suganob’s rescue was a result of the Filipino people’s faith and prayers.

“So many are praying for his freedom. So many masses are celebrated for that intention. The power of prayer is once again shown as a witness of our solid faith in God. Thanks be to God,” he added.

Suganob was among those taken hostage by the Maute group when fighting broke out in Marawi City on May 23.

Closing in

The news of Suganob’s freedom suggested that the militants could be fleeing the battlefront to escape the punishing ground and air assault.

The military said last Saturday’s assault was a strategic breakthrough in resolving the Marawi crisis with the recapture of Bato mosque and the JIMF.

But it did not mention the rescue of the two hostages during the assault.

“This enormous gain further weakened the terrorist group by d enying them their erstwhile command and control hub,” AFP chief Gen. Eduardo Año said.

“As follow-up and clearing operations continue, we expect the enemy to yield more previously occupied positions, but not without a fight. We are ready for that,” he said.

Col. Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of the task force battling the militants, said the military had encountered some of the heaviest resistance in recovering the mosque.

Its capture may be a sign that the prolonged fighting with the Maute group, whose leaders have pledged allegiance to Islamic State, may be nearing conclusion, he said.

“We believe we are close to the end. The area where the Maute terrorist group can move is shrinking. We noticed that their resistance is weakening,” Brawner said.

“They are retreating while we are assaulting but in the process of doing so, we are encountering many improvised explosive devices so we cannot just advance. We have to be very careful,” he said.

Brawner said one soldier was killed and seven others were wounded in the battle.

He said they had hoped to rescue numerous civilian hostages when they captured the mosque but they found none.

The military said 666 terrorists; at least 147 government troops and 47 civilians have since been killed in the battle, which has forced thousands to flee their homes.

The military estimates that 40 to 60 militants are still fighting. There had been no word on the fate of Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, the anointed emir of the IS in Southeast Asia, or of the brothers Omarkhayam and Abdullah Maute, leaders of the group.

Brawner said the ringleaders of the siege are still believed to be inside Marawi, adding that the military was determined to hunt them down.

“We do not want this to happen again in any other city in the Philippines,” he said. â€" Roel Pareño, John Unson, Alexis Romero, Michael Punongbayan, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Edu Punay, AFP, New York Times News Service

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