By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Leaders of the United Council of Churches in the Philippines (UCCP) are calling for a ceasefire between government troops and the Maute armed group to allow the release of all civilian hostages, and for the safe exit of other civilians trapped in embattled Marawi city.
Among some 2,000 civilians still holed up in the besieged city are 42 UCCP members, whom they dubbed “Dansalan 42,” which include 34 teachers of the Dansalan College and eight children, the youngest of whom is only two months old. The 42 have remained safe in their hiding place, but urgently need rescue, as they are running out of food and water, and some are already sick.
Seven other Dansalan teachers – five women and two men – are believed to be among those held hostage by the Maute armed group, along with Catholic priest Chito Suganob and a number of parishioners. Suganob appeared in a video on May 30, asking for the pullout of military forces in the city, and claiming there are 240 hostages being held by the Maute.
The UCCP did not divulge the identities of the seven hostages and the trapped 42 others and their location so as not to compromise their safety and that of their families.
“We call for a ceasefire para mahanap sila, at para makapasok ang (so we can rescue them and bring in) humanitarian aid,” said UCCP-Mindanao Bishop Modesto Villasanta at a forum today, May 31 in Manila.
Villasanta worried that the 42 are vulnerable anytime from both the Maute and government troops. If they risk leaving their hiding place, they might get caught or sniped by the Maute; or if they stay, they might get hit by an aerial strike or artillery bombardment.
UCCP Bishop Hamel Tiquis told Bulatlat that they have appealed both to the government and the Maute forces to spare the lives of the Dansalan 42. He said they are coordinating with the military to facilitate the rescue of the 42. They have also sent a message to possible emissaries to the Maute to allow the safe exit of the group.
The UCCP had called for “sobriety and intensified prayers” for the safety of all residents caught in the crisis in Marawi city. The religious group clarified that they do not view the conflict as a “religious war,” and appealed to the public not to heighten Islamophobia. Bishops Tiquis and Villasanta were among the Christians who joined the “Duyog Ramadan” – the solidarity breaking of the fast with Muslim progressives after a forum held at the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) in Quezon City on May 31.
UCCP general secretary Bishop Reuel Marigza, in a Facebook post, called on UCCP members to “hold on to the power of prayers and in our collective concern” in response to the conflict in Marawi city. “Let us pray without ceasing and keep the faith and hope that these sisters and brothers held or trapped in Marawi will be saved or rescued soonest,” he said.
The Labauch hall, library, science laboratory and Yellow House of the Dansalan College were attacked and burned by the allegedly Isis-affiliate Maute group on May 24. Ironically, the 67-year-old Dansalan College caters to 2,000 students, 95 percent of whom are Muslims and Maranaos. A Maute leader is, reportedly, even an alumnus of the college.
On May 24, President Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao, following the May 23 clashes between the military and the Maute group, as the former attempted to serve a warrant for extremist leader Isnilon Hapilon. In a press conference today, the Armed Forces of the Philippines reported the numbers of killed in the clashes in Marawi: 89 Maute members, 19 civilians and 21 police and military men.