ILIGAN CITY, Philippines – Father Teresito Soganub was taken by the Maute Group when clashes with troops erupted on May 23. Nothing was heard of him until a week later, when he appeared in a Maute Group propaganda video released on May 30. Carmela Fonbuena files this report.
BISHOP EDWIN DELA PEÑA: Sana pangalagaan sila. Sana maibalik sila nang buhay. Sana maibalik sila sa kanilang pamilya. Sana matapos na ito. Sana we can just go back and rebuild our lives.
CARMELA FONBUENA, REPORTING: This was Bishop Edwin dela Peña’s prayer Tuesday morning, May 30, as he awaits of news – any news – about Father Teresito Soganub, his right-hand man and friend who was taken by the Maute Group the night the clashes started.
BISHOP DELA PEÑA: Hoping against hope and waiting hanggang sa ngayon. No calls. And it is the 8th day.
CARMELA FONBUENA, REPORTING: His heart sinks each time he hears the air strikes. He keeps imagining, what if Father Chito is caught in the crossfire?
BISHOP DELA PEÑA: Natatakot ako sa kanila dahil wala naman pinipili ‘yan eh. Ang mga targets nila is panay guesswork nila ‘yun eh.
CARMELA FONBUENA, REPORTING: He says it is in the interest of the local terrorist groups to keep Father Chito alive. He’s afraid Father Chito might end up as collateral damage.
BISHOP DELA PEÑA: Up to the last minute na kailanganin nila ang kanilang, na magagamit nila sila as human shield. Sa tindi ng operation ng military, I doubt it. Ang amin lang talagang pag-asa ay magkaroon ng milagro.
CARMELA FONBUENA, REPORTING: Just hours later, Father Chito appears in an undated propaganda video that spreads online. He vocalizes the demands of the local terrorists. It’s hard to reconcile the man in the video and the priest the bishop described.
CARMELA FONBUENA, REPORTING: In the video, believed to be put together by the terrorists, he supposedly supports the territorial bid of terrorist groups responsible for unthinkable crimes against the believers of his own religion. In the bishop’s description, he is a jolly man who dedicated his life to promote dialogue between Christians and Muslims.
BISHOP DELA PEÑA: Very jolly siya. The life of the party. Kaya tawag sa kanya ay Chitrix Brown. Sa kanyang mga classmates sa seminary, sa mga pari dito sa Iligan, siya ang laging kinukuhang emcee kasi magaling magpatawa.
CARMELA FONBUENA, REPORTING: The bishop welcomes the news that Father Chito is alive.
BISHOP DELA PEÑA: We feel happy for him that he’s still there but at the same time sad because this is the most critical period sa Marawi siege.
CARMELA FONBUENA, REPORTING: But he says he’s obviously under duress from the Maute Group.
BISHOP DELA PEÑA: Well, you know what? When you are a captive you are not free to speak your mind. I hope the netizens would consider that. That he is under duress and he is forced to say things he normally would not say.
CARMELA FONBUENA, REPORTING: His scenario has come true, a very old trick that we also saw in the 2013 Zamboanga siege. Pinned down, the terrorist groups turn a priest into a human shield. Day 8 of the crisis throws a curveball. Terrorists never really play fair.
Carmela Fonbuena, Rappler, Iligan City. – Rappler.com