Gunmen take Catholic hostages; Philippines' Duterte imposes martial law

IMAGE: CNS photo/Romeo Ranoco, Reuters


MANILA, Philippines (CNS) — Gunmen claiming to have links
with the Islamic State group threatened to kill hostages, including a Catholic
priest, who were taken from the southern Philippine city of Marawi May 23.

President Rodrigo Duterte imposed martial law across the
entire Muslim-majority region of Mindanao late May 23, but reported
that many, including church leaders, characterized the imposition of martial
law as an overreaction.

As of
early morning May 25, nothing had been heard of the whereabouts of the priest
and the prelature’s staff and some churchgoers who were taken captive.

Orlando Quevedo of Cotabato appealed to Muslim religious leaders to intercede
with the gunmen, who claimed to be Muslims, for the safety of the hostages who
were reportedly used as “human shields” when the militants attacked
the city.

Socrates Villegas, president of the Philippine bishops’ conference, said the
terrorists “have threatened to kill the hostages if government forces
pitted against them are not recalled.”

“As the government forces ensure that the law is
upheld, we beg of them to make the safety of the hostages a primordial
consideration,” he added.

Initial reports received by said Father Teresito
Suganob, vicar general of the Prelature of Marawi, and several staff of St.
Mary’s Cathedral, which was set on fire, were taken hostage. The gunmen also
forced their way into the residence of Bishop Edwin de la Pena of Marawi.

Bishop de la Pena confirmed reports that the attackers took
Father Suganob, several of the prelature’s staff, and some churchgoers. He said
he received a call from “a member of Islamic State” who used his
kidnapped secretary’s phone and demanded a “unilateral cease-fire” in
exchange for the life of the priest and the other hostages.

“They want a cease-fire and for the military to give
them access out of Marawi,” said Bishop de la Pena. “Otherwise they
will kill the hostages.”

Archbishop Villegas said Father Suganob was performing
priestly duties at the time of his capture.

“He was not a combatant. He was not bearing arms. He
was a threat to none. His capture and that of his companions violates every
norm of civilized conflict,” said Archbishop Villegas.

Fighters of the Maute group, which has vowed allegiance to
the Islamic State, also burned several buildings, including the cathedral, a
Protestant school and the city’s jail.

The bishop said the gunmen used the hostages as “human
shields” as fighting continued with security forces May 24.

In Marawi,
the military confirmed that five soldiers were killed and 31 others injured in
the attack on the city. At least two policemen were also reported killed.

authorities refuse to release the number of casualties and fatalities as
“clearing operations” continued.

Duterte placed all of Mindanao’s 27 provinces and 33 cities,
roughly a third of the country, under martial law for a period of 60 days.
Mindanao is home to an estimated 20 million people.

Duterte warned that the martial law in Mindanao “will
not be any different” from the martial law declared by former dictator
Ferdinand Marcos.

“I’ll be harsh,” said Duterte. “I have to do
it to preserve the Republic of the Philippines,” he said, even as he assured
Filipinos “not to be too scared.” reported that religious leaders and civil
society groups, however, said there was no need for Duterte to put Mindanao
under military rule. Filipinos have been wary of martial law since it was used
by Marcos to remain in power for two decades, until his ouster in 1986.

“Putting the whole of Mindanao under martial law is
very dangerous and vulnerable to abuse,” said Alih Aiyub,
secretary-general of the Ulama Council of the Philippines.

The Muslim religious leader told that “innocent
people might be caught in the crossfire or might be arrested illegally by mere

“Fighting terrorism does not need the declaration of
martial law, because our existing laws are more than enough to enforce it,”
said Aiyub.

Bishop Jose Bagaforo of Kidapawan said the declaration of
martial law could have been limited to Marawi City and surrounding areas, “not
all of Mindanao.”

Redemptorist Father Amado Picardal, who works with basic
ecclesial communities and the bishops’ conference, said declaring martial law
across Mindanao while only Marawi was attacked “is either idiotic or an
excuse to expand dictatorial control.”

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