Updated: June 27, 2017 08:58 AM GMT
Father Teresito Soganub, vicar general of the Prelature of Marawi, was taken hostage by terrorist gunmen on May 23. (Photo from Father Soganub's Facebook page)
The Philippine military said a Catholic priest abducted by terrorist gunmen in the southern Philippines was seen alive on June 25, during a "humanitarian pause" in the conflict.
Father Teresito Soganub, vicar general of the Prelature of Marawi, was taken hostage on May 23 by terrorist gunmen who attacked the city of Marawi.
Army spokesman Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera said the priest was seen alive in a part of the city that is still in the hands of the terrorists who claim to have links with the so-called Islamic State.
"We've got a lot of reports, especially from rescued civilians," said Herrera, adding that the priest was last seen by hostages before they were rescued on June 25.
"We don't have details of his health. We were just told that he was sighted alive," the military official told reporters in the provincial capital of Lanao del Sur.
The military spokesman said the rescued hostages established "proof of life" for Father Soganub.
On May 30, the priest appealed to the Philippine government for help in a video posted on social media by terrorist supporters.
The video showed Father Soganub calling on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to withdraw security forces from Marawi.
Duterte has declared martial law across Mindanao following the terror attack in Marawi.
Media reports on June 26 said the gunmen offered to release the priest in exchange for the freedom of the arrested parents of the Maute brothers, the leaders of the local terror group.
Jesus Dureza, peace adviser for Duterte, said "[the offer] is not possible," adding that "[the government] does not negotiate with terrorists."
"If we will give in to their demands, it seems they are also terrorizing us. So negotiation is not possible," said Dureza.
The military said talks between religious leaders and the terrorists on June 25 was "not sanctioned by our armed forces."
On June 26, the armed forces announced that it was close to totally flushing out the fighters of the Maute terror group still manning battle positions in areas of Marawi.
"The victory is irreversible," said military spokesman Col. Edgard Arevalo during a media briefing in Manila. "It is just a matter of time before we … complete our mission," he said.
He said some terrorist fighters were about to surrender but were executed by their leaders. Arevalo estimated that about 150 gunmen still control portions of four villages of Marawi.
The ongoing conflict in Marawi has already resulted in the displacement of some 300,000 people who fled after hostilities started on May 23.
The military claimed that the fighting killed at least 290 terrorist gunmen, 70 soldiers and policemen, and at least 27 civilians.
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