Marawi priest Chito Soganub speaks of 'one God' for Christians, Muslims

NOW FREE. Former Maute Group hostage Father Teresito 'Chito' Soganub appears in a press conference on September 18, 2017, after 117 days in captivity. Photo by Maria Tan/Rappler

NOW FREE. Former Maute Group hostage Father Teresito 'Chito' Soganub appears in a press conference on September 18, 2017, after 117 days in captivity.

Photo by Maria Tan/Rappler

MARAWI CITY, Philippines – Raising his hand towards the heavens, like he was preaching, rescued Maute Group hostage Father Teresito "Chito" Soganub spoke about the "commonalities" between Christianity and Islam.

"Ang (The) commonality, we believe that there is the Almighty, the Creator. Siya lang ang pinakamalakas sa lahat. Siya ang source ng lahat. (He is the most powerful being. He is the source of everything.) That's common," Soganub said.

The priest fell into deep thought and looked towards the window of the C295 plane of the Philippine Air Force, as seen in a video of the conversation taken by a local government official accompanying him to Camp Aguinaldo, the military headquarters in Manila.

He uttered these words on Monday morning, September 18, only two days since his rescue from the battle area during an intense firefight for control of the Bato Mosque in Marawi City.

The hostages were kept inside the mosque that had served as command center of the enemies, according to the military. The hostages were allegedly made to build improvised explosive devices (IEDs) for the local terrorists who earlier pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS).

As Maute fighters scampered to abandon the mosque and seek cover in nearby buildings, the priest and a college teacher, Lordvin Ocopio, found an opportunity to run towards a military tank they spotted only 50 meters away, based on the account of Marawi Bishop Edwin dela Peña. It matched the narration of another source.

The troops took the two hostages to safety. After 117 days in captivity, the priest who was taken from Saint Mary's Parish on May 23 was free from the terrorists.

He has yet to undergo debriefing and military interrogation for information that could help troops end the war in Marawi.

OFF TO MANILA. Marawi City priest Teresito 'Chito' Soganub is flown to Manila two days after his rescue. Photo courtesy of Zia Alonto Adiong

OFF TO MANILA. Marawi City priest Teresito 'Chito' Soganub is flown to Manila two days after his rescue.

Photo courtesy of Zia Alonto Adiong

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief General Eduardo Año said he ordered the assault on Bato Mosque to rescue the priest who he said was under the care of Omar Maute, the last among 6 Maute siblings who is still alive.

"I gave the go signal to assault the Bato Mosque so we can implement the extraction of Father Soganub while there's fighting. This materialized. When we gained a foothold on Bato Mosque, we were able to extricate Father Soganub the night of September 16," Año said in a briefing on Monday.

The government hailed the fall of the Maute stronghold as a "significant gain." Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said it was used as a battle position, machine gun nest, sniper lair, IED assembly point, and storage area for combat supplies.

The military said operations are ongoing to rescue about 50 more hostages kept in the remaining 10-hectare battle area.

The priest appeared in high spirits when he was presented to the media at Camp Aguinaldo on Monday. "I am physically strong and handsome," a smiling Soganub told reporters, eliciting laughter.

The priest who has served in Marawi for two decades has always been known for his sense of humor. It was as if nothing happened.

Zia Alonto Adiong, the crisis spokesperson who was among the companions of the priest in the plane to Manila, said it was the same jovial attitude that Soganub showed during their trip.

"Hindi mo mararamdaman na captive siya (You will not feel that he was a captive)," said Adiong.

But this wasn't how a soldier who earlier saw Soganub described him. He said the priest was obviously shaken and he suspected that Soganub had converted to Islam.

Soganub was made to perform Muslim rituals inside the battle area, including praying on Islamic prayer rugs, said Adiong. Some military officers on the ground have long suspected that the priest had converted to Islam. (READ: Marawi bishop can't confirm if Soganub is now Muslim)

But the recorded conversations on the plane show the priest remains true to his faith.

"We believe in one God. We want to live in peace. Sa (In the) Muslim [faith], after earthly life, you want to be in paradise. Sa amin (For Catholics), we want to be in heaven," Soganub said in the video.

Adiong said the Muslim rituals Soganub had to perform don't make him a Muslim. "If the conversion is done under duress, it doesn't count," said Adiong, quoting a verse in the Koran.

In his short statement to the media on Monday, the priest had a request. "Please pray for me through my healing and recovery."

Before the war, Soganub had dedicated his life to peace efforts and interfaith dialogue in a region that is fraught with violence.  

Adiong believes the priest remains true to this calling. But Father Chito can speak for himself when he's ready. – Rappler.com