ONE morning in Iligan City, while I was waiting for the peace assembly campaign for the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) to begin, I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with Reverend Fr. Chito Suganob. Both of us were invited by the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) to inform and educate the voters of Lanao del Norte regarding the BOL.
Fr. Chito Suganob, who was taken as a hostage for 117 days last 2017 by the Maute-Isis Terror Group in Mindanao, shared to me his ordeal and journey towards forgiving his captors.
“The Isis Maute fighters were not ordinary men. They were determined in achieving their objectives.” Fr. Chito said.
Fr. Chito described how the Maute-Isis group were able to withstand the air strike and land assault of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The armed conflict that lasted for several months showed their strong commitment to their cause.
“Because I was a hostage, I would do whatever they would tell me to do. I was no longer afraid to die because I have already considered myself dead psychologically,” he added.
Fr. Chito also mentioned that there were times that he questioned the wisdom and the power of God. How did I manage to survive through these many near-death experiences - air strikes and close encounter combat?
Looking the Marawi siege experience, how we react with this kind of attack is crucial to our peace building activities and setting up the Bangsamoro government.
Before the program of OPAPP started, Fr. Chito told me that he is in the process of healing physically and psychologically. His trauma of being a hostage by ISIS is still deeply-rooted in his soul. For 117 days, he was in the hands of ISIS. This affected him in that he was even more determined to work for inter-religious dialogue in Mindanao.
My own reflection in that conversation with Fr. Chito is that we cannot fall into the trap of what ISIS calls a “religious” war - to pitch battle between our brother Muslims and Christians. This is the narrative that they want to achieve.
The various social media bulletins of the Islamic State claimed responsibility in the recent bombing attack in Jolo. This showcased the impact that the Islamic State can do harm in Mindanao.
According to Fr. Chito, the Mautes and Hapilon cannot be considered as “ordinary men”. They are leaders reacting to the socio-political landscape of injustices in Mindanao. What we must learn from is that a military-based approach is never enough to address the problems of violent extremism. Many people in our government still think that the best way to counter them is to adopt their words and their ideas of religious war.
This is a big mistake. Why help the violent extremists and terrorists by fighting among ourselves? We know they wish to divide us and to have us live in fear. As Fr. Chito is proving to us, through his life and example, is that we cannot let them win.