Military claims priest still hostage in devastated Marawi

Philippine troops display damaged religious items found in bullet-scarred cathedral
 Military claims priest still hostage in devastated Marawi

The military shows religious items recovered from Marawi Cathedral. (Photo by Bong Sarmiento)

The vicar-general of the Prelature of Marawi and several other Catholic hostages taken by militants inspired by the so-called Islamic State (IS) are still alive after more than three months of fighting in the southern Philippine City.

At a press conference announcing the retaking of St. Mary's Cathedral, Major General Carlito Galvez, commander of government forces in Marawi, denied social media reports that terrorist gunmen may have spirited Father Teresito Soganub out of the city.

The military presented gold-plated religious items including chalices and crucifix recovered by troops from the cathedral, which rebels abandoned on Aug. 25.

Some of the items were damaged when the terrorists stormed the church on May 23, the first day of the conflict.

Marilyn Suganob- Ginnivan, a younger sister of the priest, said the family was glad to hear the information.

"We are continuously praying for his safety and the other hostages. May God spare them [from death]," she told in a text message.

"In two or three weeks' time," Galvez said the military expects the city to return to normal, as the battle zone has narrowed to just "400 to 600 square meters."

Captain Jo-ann Petinglay, spokesperson of Joint Task Force Marawi, said the cathedral needs repairing after many bullets struck the building.

"It's not totally wrecked. There was damage to the walls [from bullets]," she added.

Earlier, IS-linked websites released a video showing fighters toppling over statues and desecrating icons before trying to set fire to the cathedral.

Marawi Bishop Edwin dela Pena condemned the desecration of the cathedral, branding it a "blasphemous" act.

The military also on Aug. 25 announced the retaking of Marawi's Grand Mosque and Islamic Center hours before President Rodrigo Duterte arrived to visit troops.

Three soldiers were wounded advancing on the mosque, officials said. The military reported no enemy casualties but on Aug. 28 said troops had discovered three booby traps, one suicide bomb suit, two rocket propelled grenade launchers; and a black flag with the IS insignia.

Soldiers also found a tunnel inside the mosque, which rebels could have used to store ammunition.

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