Bishop Edwin de la Pena of Marawi speaks before the Solidarity Congress for Persecuted Christians on June 29 in the northern Philippine province of Pangasinan. (Photo by Karl Romano)
The Catholic bishop in the southern Philippine city of Marawi dismissed as "ridiculous" proposals to negotiate for the release of a priest who is being held captive by terrorist gunmen.
Speaking before a gathering of church people in the northern province of Pangasinan, Bishop Edwin de la Pena of Marawi said "there is no way we can dialogue" with extremists.
The prelate said that for the past four decades the Catholic Church's response to war and conflicts in the southern region of Mindanao is dialogue.
"We can only dialogue with like-minded people," he told the gathering called the Solidarity Congress for Persecuted Christians on June 29.
The gathering was sponsored by Aid to the Church in Need, a pontifical foundation of the Catholic Church that supports victims of persecution.
Bishop de la Pena said the church should "choose the kind of people that we will have a dialogue with."
He said people who have fallen victim to extremism, those who "experience so much pain ... are all the people who are open to have a dialogue with us."
In a statement, Aid to the Church in Need said the gathering was "timely" because of the ongoing conflict in Marawi.
The Catholic group said "awareness of the situation of persecuted Christians" in Mindanao is necessary before Filipinos can express solidarity with "suffering fellow Christians."
Security forces continue to battle with terrorist gunmen who claim to have links with the so-called Islamic State.
The gunmen belonging to the local Maute terror group attacked the city of Marawi on May 23 and burned the city's Catholic cathedral, a Protestant school, and took hostage Catholic priest Teresito Soganub and several church workers.
The government said the terrorists are still holding about 100 hostages who are being used as "human shields."
On June 28, at least 17 civilian bodies were recovered by the military from the besieged city.
The bodies were in addition to the 27 civilians earlier confirmed killed when fighting broke out last month.
The conflict has so far resulted in the deaths of at least 299 terrorists and 71 soldiers and policemen.
Some 2,700 civilians have been rescued from the battle zone while about 300,000 individuals remain in evacuation centers in nearby areas.