Family and friends of captive Filipino priest Teresito Soganub pray for his safe release in their home in Norala town, South Cotabato province. (Photo by Bong Sarmiento)
Friends and family members of Father Teresito Soganub, who remains in the hands of terrorist gunmen in the southern Philippines, offered prayers for his safety as he turned 57 on Aug. 1.
Father Soganub, and several church workers were abducted on May 23 during the attack on the city of Marawi, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to place the entire region of Mindanao under martial law.
"For his birthday, I pray that my brother as well as the other hostages will have peace of mind in the midst of war," said Marilyn Soganub-Ginnivan, the priest's sister.
"Prayer is the best gift that I can offer for him," she told ucanews.com.
"I pray that he and the other captives will be released safely," she added.
Marilyn said the family is leaving the fate of Father Soganub to "divine providence."
"I believe that … he is ready [to sacrifice his life] for a mission to help the other hostages become strong and to have faith in God," she said.
Family and friends continue to hold daily prayer sessions in the priest's hometown in Norala, South Cotabato province, since his abduction.
Bishop Edwin de la Pena of Marawi said Father Soganub was reported alive by a former hostage who escaped the still ongoing armed clashes in Marawi between security forces and the terrorists.
Military spokesman Capt. Jo-ann Petinglay, however, said the fate of the priest "has become uncertain."
On July 31, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the terrorists are using the hostages as shields.
He said there are still some 30 hostages in the hands of the terrorists.
Troops continue to conduct clearing operations in Marawi that has so far resulted in the death of at least 114 members of the security forces and 491 terrorists.