Filipino priest who survived captivity during Marawi siege dies of cardiac arrest

Father Teresito “Chito” Soganub, the priest who was abducted by terrorist gunmen in the southern Philippine city of Marawi in 2017, died July 22, due to cardiac arrest.

“Our dearly beloved [Father] Teresito Soganub died of cardiac arrest in his sleep early this morning … in his home in Noralah, South Cotabato,” read a statement from Bishop Edwin Dela Peña of Marawi.

“It is with great sadness that we make this announcement, in behalf of the Prelature of Marawi,” said the prelate who asked everyone to include the priest in their prayers.

Father Soganub was vicar general of Marawi when he was abducted by terrorist gunmen along with several other parishioners on May 23, 2017.

He was rescued after almost four months in the besieged city of Marawi hours after a deadly battle between Philippine soldiers and Islamic State-allied militants.

A year after his abduction, Father Soganub admitted that during his four-month ordeal in the hands of the militants he embraced Islam and collected ammunition for them.

“I was a captive,” said the priest. “I was not afraid to die, but I was afraid to suffer,” he said in what sounded like a confession days before the first anniversary of the attack.

Catholic priest Father Teresito Suganob (second left) gestures during a press conference with Philippine military chief Eduardo Ano (left), Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana (second right), and Marawi Crisis Committee spokesperson Zia Alonto (right) at the military headquarters in Manila on Sept. 18, 2017, following his rescue by the military two days earlier. (Photo by Ted Aljibe/AFP)

He admitted feeling a “sense of uncertainty” despite being told that he would not be killed. “I did not know what would happen,” he said, adding that during that time his only concern was to live.

Father Soganub said there was even a point during those trying times that he had doubts about his faith and questioned God’s wisdom.

“I was angry with God for putting me in such a horrible situation. However, my faith in the Lord did not waiver. In fact, it even became deeper,” he said.

“I prayed more feverishly than I used to do with death staring us straight in the face. Anytime, a bomb or a bullet could hit anyone of us during the fierce fighting between the two sides,” the priest added.

During his captivity, Father Soganub was forced to attend lectures about the terrorists’ cause. He soon got to know his captors who claimed to be members of the so-called Islamic State.

When one of the terrorists died, the priest said he felt sad. “You cannot avoid feeling human even when the enemy dies. We transcend from being a captive and a hostage taker,” he said.

Prayer became the priest’s refuge during his ordeal. He prayed to the Virgin Mary, he prayed to Jesus, he prayed to God. He prayed for guidance on how to escape.

One day, he had the opportunity to escape. “Nobody helped me,” said the priest. He was with his sacristan who was also taken by the gunmen.

With a gun in his hand and the knowledge that government troops were nearby, Father Soganub and the sacristan took off in the middle of the night.

The priest made it, but the sacristan did not.

A year after the siege of Marawi, residents were allowed to salvage whatever they can from their homes at ground zero. This image was taken May 10, 2018. ( photo)

A year after his ordeal, Father Soganub admitted that he would wake up in the middle of the night even at the slightest sound.

He avoided people and prayed a lot. “If it is difficult to rebuild a building, how much more a person? It is very difficult to rebuild the inner being of a person,” he said.

Father Soganub said it was hard to forget the many times bombs exploded around him, the times death was so real, the moments that he could not even feel fear because death was preferable than suffering.

He said there was still anger in his heart, “but I am a Christian and I am a priest.”

“I still believe that the Christian way is the way of love, and forgiveness is part of it,” he said.

In recent months, the priest spent his time touring the country to promote inter-religious dialogue and understanding between Christians and Muslims.

His speaking engagements were his way of thanking those who prayed for him and for his safety.

“I am deeply touched by the many people who come to me and tell me that they prayed for my safety,” he said.

He served 23 years of his priesthood in the Prelature of Marawi as vicar general and as the Catholic chaplain at the city’s Mindanao State University.

The Marawi conflict of 2017 went on to last five months, during which the government declared martial law across the entire southern Philippine region of Mindanao.

The conflict resulted in the death of more than a thousand people, mostly terrorist gunmen, and the displacement of about 400,000 residents.

Father Teresito ‘Chito’ Soganub. (Photo by Angie de Silva)

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