By Bonita Ermac and Leslie Ann Aquino
Iligan City – The news that Fr. Teresito “Chito” Soganub was finally free after 117 days of captivity by the Maute-ISIS Group was greeted with great rejoicing here on Monday.
Church leaders led by Marawi Bishop Edwin dela Peña welcomed the news on the rescue of Soganub and other hostages.
“Our joy couldn’t be complete if the good news received will not be shared,” Iligan City Vice Mayor Msgr. Jemar Vera Cruz said, despite the request of Fr. Soganub that he would not tell anyone about his release in the meantime, in a cellular phone conversation on Monday.
“Dili masulod sa kalibutan ang gibating dakong kalipay,” Vera Cruz said over the phone in an interview with DXIC-RMN station Monday morning.
He said Father Soganub is thankful for all the prayers for his safe release and to St. Michael de Acrhangel for protecting him.
Fr. Soganub, who was presented to media at Camp Aquinaldo, Quezon City on Monday, thanked the people for praying for him following his safe rescue from the Main Battle Area (MBA) in Marawi City.
In a brief speech, Fr. Soganub assured that he is in good condition and only need some rest following his almost four-month captivity from the hands of the Daesh-inspired Maute terrorist group.
Fr. Soganub, it was recalled, was taken by the Maute Group on May 23, 2017 shortly after the terrorist group occupied Marawi City.
Bishop Stephen L. Villaester, pastor of 3J2 Bible Center Anglican Church, also said he is grateful to God for the release of Fr. Soganub. “Thank you, Lord Jesus. This is indeed great news. I cannot wait to see him. He is my friend, my brother, and a counterpart at the Interfaith Council for Peace,” he said.
Fr. Suganob, along with the other hostages of the Maute Group in Marawi City, will undergo a healing and reintegration program, Duyog Marawi, the social action center of the Prelature of Marawi, said on Facebook.
Bishop Dela Peña has a plan for the released hostages’ healing and reintegration. It includes a general medical check-up and hospital confinement for their body to recover, a long period of rest and recovery, together with trauma therapy.
While Fr. Soganub is going through a healing process, his chaplaincy, education, interfaith, and peace building programs and services at the Mindanao State University will be assumed by a combination of priests and lay missionaries from the Redemptorist Missionaries in the Philippines, Caritas Cebu, and the Capiz Archdiocesan Social Action Center in Roxas City.
The priest is the vicar general of the Marawi prelature, chaplain of MSU, and acting rector of St. Mary’s Cathedral.
Presidential Peace Adviser Secretary Jesus Dureza said Soganub was rescued Saturday night in an area near Marawi City’s second biggest mosque in Bato District.
Latest estimate: 60 to 80
Meanwhile, the number of those fighting government troops in Marawi City has increased following reports that some of the hostages of the Daesh-inspired Maute Group joined the terrorists.
AFP spokesman Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the estimate of enemy strength is now at around 60 to 80 members, because of reports indicating that perhaps some of the hostages have been forced to join their ranks,” Padilla said at the Mindanao Hour/Bangong Marawi press briefing in Malacañang Monday morning.
Padilla also said that the AFP is still confirming reports that there are Maute members who expressed willingness to surrender to the authorities. (With reports from Francis T. Wakefield and Argyll B. Geducos)