Updated: June 01, 2017 08:56 AM GMT
Members of the Soganub family hold a prayer in their home in the southern Philippine town of Norala, South Cotabato province, on June 1, for the safe release of Father Teresito Soganub who was abducted by terrorist gunmen in Marawi City on May 23. (Photo by Bong Sarmiento)
The family of a Catholic priest held captive by a local terrorist group in the southern Philippines is banking on prayers and the help of Muslim religious leaders for the pastor's freedom.
Father Teresito Soganub (not Suganob as earlier reported), vicar of the Prelature of Marawi, and several church workers were abducted by gunmen who attacked the city of Marawi on May 23.
The priest's family in the town of Norala, South Cotabato province, has been holding prayer vigils for a week now for the safety of the hostages.
"Dear God, please release [the hostages] safely from the hands of their captors," prayed Roqueto Soganub, younger brother of the priest.
Father Soganub is the eldest of the six siblings who hail from the town of Norala, some 260 kilometers from Marawi City.
On May 30, the priest appeared on a video posted on social media appealing to the government to stop the military strikes in Marawi for the safety of hostages.
"It was him. We’re glad he’s alive. We have been praying for him. It's torture for us to learn that he has been held captive," said Marilyn Soganub-Ginnivan, a sister of the priest.
She said she spent sleepless nights knowing that the life of her brother is in danger. "I just break down and cry in the middle of the night."
Marilyn said the family is hoping that Muslim religious leaders can influence the gunmen, who claimed to be Islamic militants, to release the priest and the other captives.
She said her brother is "well-loved" by Muslim residents in Marawi where he has been working for inter-religious dialogue.
The Philippine military said "back channel talks" are being held to ensure the safety of the priest and the other hostages.
Armed forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said Muslim religious leaders who have worked with Father Soganub are helping in the negotiations.
"There have also been efforts to reach out through the backdoor for backchannel talks with possible parties who may help," said the military general in a media briefing in Manila
Padilla said Father Soganub has projects in various Muslim communities.
The general, however, said the government is "not negotiating with terrorists," adding that the military is "merely working closely with civil organization whose objective is to save more lives."
The military spokesman said security forces are doing their best to rescue the priest and the other hostages.
Members of the Soganub family expressed their gratitude to the people who are praying for the safe release of their brother.
Marilyn said they are praying for a "miracle" that will change the hearts of the kidnappers.
As of June 1, at least 164 people were already reported killed in ongoing clashes between government forces and the Maute terrorist group in Marawi.
With the military apparently closing in on the gunmen's positions, the Soganub siblings vowed to continue praying that they will soon see their brother alive.
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