By Josemaria Claro
AFTER MORE than three months, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has finally cleared and retaken the St. Mary’s Cathedral in Marawi City.
The cathedral had been captured ISIS-inspired terrorists on May 23, 2017. The cathedral was desecrated. Soldier had to empty the church of improvised explosive devices. The AFP has also released footage of the cathedral, which showed bullet-ridden walls as well as fragments of destroyed icons and other adornments of the church scattered on the floor. The altar is completely destroyed, and a beheaded figure is the only statue left standing.
The military was also able to clear the Grand Mosque, the largest place of worship for Muslims living in Marawi City. That structure was not as badly damaged or desecrated by the militants, though they dug holes and tunnels underneath and made holes in the walls of the mosque to allow for firing on government troops.
For the past three months, the military has conducted extensive bombin raids on the city of Marawi, but it has deliberately refrained from bombing mosques as a sign of respect to the Maranaos, the Muslim ethnic group that has lived in the area for centuries. The terrorists took advantage of this restraint and used mosques as fortresses to resist the army’s attacks.
Muslim clerics have denounced the desecration of the cathedral despite threats of the terrorists to execute Muslims who criticize ISIS.
Marawi City Assemblyman Zia Alonto Adiong praised the fact that Christian police officers and soldiers helped clean up Muslim sites and secure its surroundings. “That again was a tacit indication that the conflict here is not a conflict among Muslims and Christians. These two groups are working together to restore law and order in Marawi City,” Adiong said.
Asked whether there were concrete plans already to rebuild the cathedral, Bishop dela Peña of the Prelature of Marawi said that, “more than the Cathedral, what is more important is to restore the Christian community and its good relations with the Muslims of Marawi.”
This Islamist militants, down to 30-45 members from its original contingent of 200 fighters, still control a small section of Marawi City. They continue to hold about 56 Christian hostages, including the Marawi Prelature’s Vicar General Father Teresito “Chito” Suganob.
Aid to the Church in Need has donated $30,000 to help feed Marawi City residents displaced by the ongoing fighting.