A Catholic priest abducted last week by an Islamic extremist group in the southern Philippines has appeared in a video appealing for the government to halt military offensives in the besieged city of Marawi amid growing fears he will be used as a "human shield".
A video posted on the Facebook page of Bisaya News shows Rev, Fr. Teresito Suganob from the Prelature of St. Mary in Marawi City, appealing to Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte as sounds of gunfire are heard in the background.
In the video, Suganob recounts how he and several parishioners were taken as prisoners of war by the ISIS-affiliated Maute group, also known as Dawlah Islamiya, which then set fire to the Cathedral of Our Lady Help of Christians in Marawi.
"Mr. President, we are in the midst of this war. We are asking your help to please give what your enemies are asking for," he said.
Suganob said the enemy wasn't asking "for anything," just to withdraw "forces away from Lanao del Sur and Marawi City, and to stop the airstrikes, your air attacks, and to stop the canyon."
The priest begged Duterte to "please consider us," reporting they would hear gunfire from "time to time."
"Mr. President, they do not ask for anything. They just ask that you leave this place peacefully. Do not give so much attack. The city in my background is ruined like this," he said.
The priest said he would kneel before the President if it meant saving the 240 "prisoners of war" and to appease the fear of their families and friends.
"We want to live another day, we want to live another month, we want to live a few years. And in your generosity, Mr. President, in your heart, we know you can make something."
Catholic leaders earlier appealed for help from Muslim religious heads for Suganob's release.
"I pray for the safety of all the hostages. I appeal to the consciences of the hostage takers not to harm the innocent as the Islamic faith teaches. I appeal to religious leaders of Islam to influence the hostage takers to release the hostages unharmed," said Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Cardinal Quevedo in an interview with the church-run radio station Veritas.
Bishop Edwin de la Pena, who heads the territorial prelature of Marawi city, expressed fears that the priest - and the other Christian hostages - will be used by the terrorist group as "human shields".
He said: "There are no negotiations. The army is engaged in door-to-door combat to regain the city of Marawi. And military leaders say they do not intend to negotiate with terrorists.
"We are seriously concerned about Fr Chito, Fr Suganob, and the other 15 hostages taken by terrorists. We do not know where they are. I do not think the kidnappers want money, but they intend to use them to save their lives. I fear they will use them as human shields."
As reported, the fighting between the military and the Maute group erupted on Friday when the military was conducting a "surgical operation" against Jihadist group leader Isnilon Hapilon, who is listed by the FBI among the world's most wanted terrorists.
More than a hundred residents of Marawi have died and 70,000 have fled the town of 200,000 since the fighting began. Militants have executed more than a dozen people - including nine Christians - and numerous others had been taken hostage, the Department of National Defense said.
Duterte has imposed martial law on Mindanao Island, which includes Marawi, in an attempt to restore order, and on Tuesday unleashed a series of air strikes in a push to regain full control of the city.
"Precision airstrikes are (being) judiciously used to prevent collateral damage and employed at specific targets of resistance to protect our troops and hasten clearing of the city of terrorist elements who continue to resist," military spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said Tuesday, according to the official Philippine News Agency.