No info on offer to swap priest for Maute parents: military

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 27 2017 09:55 AM | Updated as of Jun 27 2017 12:34 PM

MANILA - (UPDATED) The military on Tuesday said it has not received information on an alleged offer of Maute terrorists to release a Catholic priest held captive in Marawi City in exchange for the freedom of the parents of the Maute brothers.

"Wala pa po ito. Hindi pa po nakakarating sa amin ang pormal na pahayag diyan," Armed Forces spokesperson Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said in a radio DZMM interview.

"Sisikapin po nating makuha ito, mabatid at malaman kung ano po ang naging pangyayari sa mga usapin na ito."

(We have not received any formal statement on that. We will strive to verify what happened in this reported negotiation.)

This screengrab taken from handout video released by the Philippine Army on June 18, 2017 shows Abdullah Maute (R) looking at an improvised map of Marawi, while Isnilon Hapilon (2nd L), leader of hardline group Abu Sayyaf looks on, as they plan an attack on Marawi at an undisclosed location on Mindanao island. Handout/Philippine Army/AF

An Inquirer report said some 8 Muslim leaders on Sunday met with Abdullah Maute, one of 2 brothers leading the siege of Marawi. The meeting reportedly occurred when the military enforced an 8-hour ceasefire to allow residents to celebrate the Muslim feast of Eid al-Fitr.

Maute reportedly offered to release hostage Fr. Chito Suganob if the government releases his parents, Farhana and Cayamora, who were arrested by the military earlier this month.

According to the report, the terror leader also said his group was willing to withdraw from Marawi if the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) intervenes and negotiates with the government.

If Maute's offer is true, Padilla said it is not up to the military to decide on how the government should respond.

"Wala po sa atin ito... Hindi po ito sanctioned din ng ating puwersa," he said. (This is not up to us. This is not sanctioned by our armed forces.)

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) meanwhile said it will let the government resolve the issue.

"It's a sensitive matter. Let's leave it to the government and Fr. Chito's bishop to decide on the matter. Our only wish is for the safe release of the hostages," CBCP said in a statement from its public affairs committee.

Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera, spokesperson of the Joint Task Force Marawi spokesperson, said Monday that Suganob was seen alive over the weekend by a civilian who was since rescued from the war zone.

Terrorists abducted Suganob and several parishioners from the St. Mary's Cathedral on May 24, a day after launching attacks against government troops who were chasing ISIS-inspired Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon.

The priest was last seen in a video asking the government to stop its offensives in Marawi City. The military, however, said the video was merely propaganda by terrorists.

Herrera said in a press briefing that victory for government troops is now "irreversible" as Maute fighters and their cohorts were running out of firepower and other resources.

He added that one manifestation of the military's imminent victory is the "crumbling of leadership" of the terrorists.