Marawi (Agenzia Fides) - "We are very worried. The terrorists have proposed an exchange of prisoners: in order to release Fr. Teresito (Chito) Suganob they have asked for the release of Abdullah's and Omar Maute parents and relatives, the leaders of the group.
The government has refused, since President Duterte has reiterated that he will not deal with terrorists. The siege of Marawi began on May 23 and continues. We now hope for a negotiation to free hostages, with an inclusive approach, which is supported by civil society in Mindanao. The Marana ethnic leaders (the same as the terrorists) and several Islamic leaders such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (Milf) have given their willingness to become mediators. This involvement is useful and could mark a turning point in the current stalemate": says Bishop Edwin de La Pena to Agenzia Fides, who leads the small Catholic community of Marawi, where fighting has been going on for 36 days and the terrorists of the Maute group, who swore allegiance to Isis, are barricated in the underground of several buildings, with many hostages, including 15 Christians.
"We know from one of the hostages released (since 5 hostages were released during a brief truce, ndr) that Fr. Suganob is alive and well. Now terrorists want to use hostages to save their lives. We are in a very delicate phase where we must find a viable solution", notes the Bishop.
"In recent days – says the Bishop to Fides – we had the meeting of the Bishop-Ulama Conference (BUC), which brings together Christian and Muslim leaders in Mindanao. The Conference suggests the government to take an inclusive approach to resolve the crisis, involving Islamic leaders and placing them in the forefront of negotiations".
On June 25, at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, some Muslim leaders, appointed as Filipino emissaries, met Abdullah Maute during an eight hour cease-fire, agreed for the Islamic feast of Id al-Fitr. Terrorist leaders expressed the conditions for the release of hostages, including the exchange of prisoners and the retreat, through an agreement guaranteed by Milf, the historic guerrilla formation in Mindanao. The Philippine government so far has always stressed that it did not want to deal with terrorists.
Meanwhile, interreligious initiatives have multiplied in the nation to ask for the end of the crisis. In Cebu (island north of Mindanao), Muslim communities have invited people of different faiths to "respect and love each other" to promote peace. An interreligious prayer meeting was held at the pilgrimage center of the Basilica of the Holy Nine in Cebu City, organized by the Church and local Islamic leaders. These publicly expressed grief and solidarity towards Christians for the atrocities committed in Marawi by members of the Maute group. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 28/6/2017)