FATHER Teresito Soganub, the Filipino priest rescued last weekend from the hands of the Islamic State-inspired Maute group in Marawi, has emerged from his 117-day ordeal still in good spirits.
The vicar general of the Prelature of St. Mary in Marawi, was presented to the media at around 2.30pm Monday afternoon at the Armed Forces of the Philippines headquarters in Metro Manila.
To reporters clamouring for his attention, the priest goodnaturedly assured them that he remained in fine health, and was still, “physically strong and handsome.”
He did not sit in on the question-and-answer session with the media, but in a brief speech earlier urged the public to pray for his healing and his recovery.
To his family, Fr Soganub’s freedom, whether or not it was because he escaped or was rescued by Philippine troops, was ultimately the result of their prayers being finally answered.
They said as much when approached for remarks on Monday, before they got to speak with Fr. Soganub.
“We have been praying for his freedom and the other captives since they were abducted. God answered out prayers,” Marilyn Soganub-Ginnivan told Asian Correspondent.
Marilyn, who is Fr. Soganub’s younger sister, said the family was happy to learn that the priest is now free, safe and undergoing debriefing by the military.
However, Marilyn said the priest has yet to get in touch with the family since he reportedly regained his freedom on Saturday night.
“We are still waiting for his call,” Marilyn said at around 11am Monday.
The Soganub family, who hails from the town of Norala, South Cotabato, is also preparing a big homecoming party for the priest for surviving the ordeal, Marilyn said.
It was on Sunday morning when Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza broke the news of Fr Soganub’s rescue. According to Dureza, local troops retrieved the priest, along with another hostage, near the Bato mosque at around 11.30pm Saturday.
The Bato mosque is the second grand mosque in Marawi that has been taken over by government troops since clashes with the Maute Group erupted on May 23.
It remains unclear whether Fr. Soganub had escaped on his own, or whether he was freed by the terrorist gunmen or rescued by the troops, as claimed.
Meanwhile, in a statement, the Prelature of St. Mary in Marawi said it welcomed the news that the priest, “has been rescued by the Armed Forces of the Philippines together with one other undisclosed companion.”
The Duyog Marawi team is jubilant with the, “confirmation from several military personnel that Fr. Soganub has been recovered,” according to Redemptorist Fr. Nono Reteracion.
Duyog Marawi is the prelature’s response to the Marawi crisis.
“Fr. Chito (Soganub) has always been an inspiration to us all in Marawi. News of his release certainly pushes us more to work for peace in Marawi City,” said Diovelene Francisco, a Mindanao State University student who volunteers for the Duyog Marawi Communications Center for Peace and Advocacy.
Marawi Bishop Edwin dela Peña, who was scheduled to return from Rome on Sunday, has laid out a plan for the hostages’ healing and reintegration programme now that they are free.
“This includes a general medical check-up and hospital confinement for their body to recover. After which, a long period of rest and recovery together with trauma therapy will be provided to them,” the statement said.
It was on May 24, a day after the Maute gunmen attacked the predominantly Muslim city of Marawi, when Fr. Soganub’s family cam to know that he had been abducted.
Chito, known as “Tisoy” to his family members and friends, is the eldest of the six Suganob siblings, two of whom are women.
On May 30, the priest appealed in a propaganda video for his captors, pleading with President Rodrigo Duterte to pull out the government troops or stop the military offensives in Marawi. He spoke against a backdrop of rubble believed to have been caused by the running battles between Maute militants and government forces.
Fr. Soganub has been serving at the Prelature of Marawi for 22 years.