Philippine soldiers patrol an area that was recovered from terrorist gunmen in Marawi City on Mindanao Island after fighting started in late May. (Photo by Vincent Go)
Caritas in the Philippines is appealing for help to restore St. Mary's Cathedral in Marawi as fears grow of malnutrition and displacement problems resulting from the ongoing terrorist attacks.
Father Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of Caritas Philippines, said it was important to restore the central place of worship of the Catholic community in the predominantly Muslim city on Mindano Island.
The Maute group, which claims to have links with Islamic State, launched terrorist attacks on May 23, resulting in a bloody standoff with Philippine security forces.
Gunmen took the cathedral's vicar Father Teresito Soganub hostage and destroyed religious images, including photographs of Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, as they rampaged inside the church.
Father Soganub was freed on Sept. 17 after almost four months in captivity.
Government casualties have continued to rise as the conflict drags on, despite repeated promises by Philippine military commanders that it will soon be resolved. As of Oct. 8, a total of 158 soldiers and police had been killed in action and more than a 1,000 wounded.
The military said on Oct.9 that 774 militants had been killed and up to 48 militants were holding their positions with the aid of improvised explosive devices.
Father Gariguez also appealed for help for 400,000 people displaced by the ongoing conflict. "I hope we continue to help those affected by the war so that they can go back to their normal lives," he said.
On Oct. 10, Bishop Edwin de la Pena of Marawi said the diocese would be confronted with a malnutrition crisis after the conflict is resolved.
A military commander said the shooting war was expected to end "not later than Sunday," noting that the conflict area had been reduced to about five hectares.
"We are confident we will be able to clear the remaining area in the next few days," said Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, commander of the Western Mindanao Command.
However, Bishop De la Pena warned that the terrorists continued to recruit fighters, especially young men, in Marawi and surrounding areas.
"We have been exerting efforts to counter their recruitment activities," said the prelate, adding that the "unending war in Mindanao" was the reason for the extreme poverty and terrorism in the region.
Lt. Gen. Galvez said at least 12 children and 16 women were still being held captive by the gunmen inside the main Marawi battle zone.