Fr. Chito the face behind the video asking President Duterte to stop the operation in Marawi. Who is he which made others believe that he is a Maute Sympathizer? After being rescued by troops in Marawi I could not just sit and read comments about him, dragging his names in the political issues of LP and the current Administration; and whatever issues CBCP has with the present Administration.
Fr. Chito together with other church goers were held hostages since the very first day of Marawi Seige. On that afternoon, they were in the Prelature of Marawi doing Novena for the following day’s feast of St. Mary; the patron saint of the Prelature. In the evening of May 23, 2017 Maute-ISIS men forcibly entered the premises of the church. They took with them the church goers along with Fr. Chito.
I first heard his name from my aunt’s when he was still a deacon in the Prelature, I think during 90’s. He remained in Marawi when he became a priest to serve the community. He was our priest when I had my first communion and confirmation. He was still our priest when my elder cousin got married; and he became the celebrant of her wedding and the weddings of some MSU babies ( We call ourselves MSU babies, for those who was born and grew up in MSU- Marawi). What does this mean to us? Fr. Chito is not just a priest for us; he is like a family, a father who has been in the community for a decade and so; through ups and downs! Many of us, have moved out of MSU to start a new life after graduation. Several of our priests have also served and left but Fr. Chito has loved this place that he is so courageous to stay for the number of years.
He has become the father of many CSOan’s (Catholic Student Organization). I remember one of our ate said; “Si Fr. Chito sauna, ako gud na sya duolanan sa una if wala pakoy allowance, kataw.anan iya sad ko tagaan.” (When I was in college before, I usually go to him if my parents have not sent me money yet, and so funny he really gives). And we too, MSU babies, during Flores De Mayo we love asking for cheding (peanut) during flores De mayo; he usually hides cheding into his room and we never stopped asking until we see that the jar was empty.
When we saw him being presented in the media briefing, we were really relieved and overjoyed. He was still very jolly and still cracks jokes despite all the trauma he endured for so many days in the hands of the rebels.
Why do people usually associate him as Maute sympathizer? It is because they do not know him and they judge him right away from the video they saw. Some rely their judgments thru the false news circulating in social media. Let me answer your accusations from the depths of my sweet memories in my beloved Marawi.
1. His looks, the beard and the hair.
Back then, I was sitting in the dining room of our small chapel, father was there and I heard someone saying: “Fr. ngano mana imo bangas, paputli sad na dre.” (Fr. What happen to your beard? Can you cut it?) He then replied, “Maayona ni aron di ta ma kidnap” (This is better to avoid abduction). Indeed he has a point. Before Fr. Chito became a priest in MSU-Marawi there were already some cases of abduction among our Priests. In fact, we had a French Priest who was abducted twice, who, fortunately, was released safely in a short span of time. If Fr. Chito chose to look like a normal person to keep himself safe, why would we hinder? We are not into his looks; apart from that he has served the community and dedicated his life for so long. Take note, Marawi is not a haven for them. But for the love of God and service to people, he remained. We accepted him and cared less about his physical appearance. His looks didn’t bother us as we work together for the catholic community and in upbringing, our spiritual lives in MSU. Truly enough, since he became a priest, we have not heard any priest abducted until the Marawi Siege happened.
2.The video and his appeal does not represent his whole personality.
Try putting an inch of your foot to his shoe. Would you say, “President Duterte please kill all the Maute, crash them into ashes!’? Of course not?! Fr. Chito in that video was not the same Fr. Chito we know who gives homily and speaks from his heart. He’s trembling and obviously scared. And then these social media people used him as a material in spreading false news. His video was collated with a different picture who look very much the same to him, Mr. Alexander Katigbak (protesting against duterte, holding no to ML . They thought Father Chito and the earlier mentioned were the same people. Mr. Katigbak had been an anti Duterte that staged a rally alone before the Marawi Siege. Flocks of foul accusations buzz our poor priest, who was still at that time a hostage. Such comments really devastated us and that lead us to make an explanation about this false news hoping that people would stop bashing him. However, even now, Father is still receiving comments regarding this.
3. Others are questioning his bravery.
A lot of people do not have any idea how to live as a missionary in Marawi City. Being a priest alone in this Islam dominated area for more than a decade is already an act of bravery. We have many priests coming in and out of MSU- Marawi, but, we only have Fr. Chito who stayed longer than we thought. Retaining a peaceful environment together with the tripartite and continue the dialogues of life and faith, has always been a very big challenge. This has been Father Chito’s advocate since his existence in Marawi City. These priests who are in Marawi are not MSU babies, they are strangers in this place. They have to learn the cultures and values of the Meranaos to interact and uphold our standpoints of spreading peace; and to perform their obligations without offending the culture, values and faith and of the Meranaos.
4. He was judged because of the CBCP’s issues with the current administration.
Never, in my whole life at MSU that our Catholic Community have been involved in any political issues in this country. What I always hear from our church is to spread dialogue of life and faith. It is even in our standpoints in the Catholic Student Organization. With issues of CBCP and the Duterte, I don’t think the Catholic Community of Marawi has time to mingle with these issues. Marawi has bigger problems to solve; the burned St. Mary Church has to be restored.
I am born catholic and my stand for the issues of the country is out of the CBCP’s influence. We have different minds and better understanding of what is happening in our country and we can better decide what is right and wrong based on our cultures and values.
Fr. Chito has nothing to do with CBCP today and he has never been a person of politics. Our small community in Marawi was never influenced by the decisions made by the CBCP. Father Chito today has a bigger emotional crisis to rebuild and a community to serve soon after he recovers.
5. He looks good and healthy after being rescued.
This one makes me really laugh as if people commenting are coming from this place and saw Fr. Chito before the siege. Even my mother would almost cry seeing him skinny; if you only knew how our elders in the community cares for him. Please read Fr. Dela Pena note below.
6. Islam na yan; hindi na kumakain ng baboy.
Again, I will ask you to put an inch of your foot as a hostage, do you think you have a free will?
If in case he has become an Islam, why others trying to make fun of it?
I remember my late brother, he surprised me with a confrontation that he has interest of becoming a Balik Islam; we are born active Catholics. Yet, I told him; if that religion will make you a better person then we are not going to hinder. What’s my point? Others are still trying to connect Maute-ISIS to Islam.
“If you have a better understanding on how these practicing Muslims are living. If you have encountered most of them in your life. If you have felt how they have been there during your down times. You would believe that ISIS does not conform to the actions of a practicing Muslim. “
Note: This war is not about religion this is about terrorism and humanity. Please your mouth! Stop throwing foul to the religion whom you don’t understand well.
7. He is a sympathizer of Maute and you curse him to death.
Please know that Fr. Chito is a peace advocate! Only a few Filipino understands that we are struggling from differences; difference in cultures and religion. That is why most of us are just incentive enough to throw foul words to the religions we do not like and these are one of the reasons we continue to struggle living in harmony with one another . And because MSU- Marawi is not just a home for Meranao’s but also to us Christians and other cultures from Sulu to Palawan. The Catholic Community with its aim to achieve peace have programs which aid in understanding the culture and religion of Meranaos or Muslims in general. In fact, I, together with some of my colleagues in the CSO, have experienced living with the Meranao family in Marawi City; I have tried to really set foot in a Masjid and wear their “mukna” or their clothes for praying to fully understand their faith (I have pictures, but we are still going to get it in our house in MSU campus when this war ends). The boys were on the ground floor and we girls were on the second floor during the prayer.
The pictures below shows the recent activities of the church together with Fr. Chito as the peace mentor for the catholic youths and the catholic community. He has become more deeply involved in this advocacy. Advocacy for Dialogue of life and faith that he lived all these years Marawi City. They have gone more recently than in our time before, Thus a good sign that Christians and Muslims in the campus/Marawi are trying to build a community that understands each other despite the differences.
As one with the Catholic Community in Marawi. Please spare Fr, Chito and other hostages from your political arguments and even dragging their name as receiving money from LP. They are not political personalities. Father Chito has gone through so much trauma and threats to his life when he was a hostage. He still has to undergo a long process of stress debriefing to recovery and be back to his normal life. Father Chito and the other left hostages are just simple Filipinos who do their part in building this nation. He’s a peace advocate priest and others are teachers and professionals in the community. They are just the few faces of the victims of this war.
Let us continue on praying for the remaining hostages that God will cover them with his love and protection; and soon be freed safely. Let us pray for the soldiers, who have been offering their lives to free Marawi from terrorists. For the LGU, non- profit organizations and volunteers, who are in one way or another, has offered selflessly to heal the broken hearts of those who have lost their hard earned properties and loved once. Also, For the President that God will give him wisdom to come up with the best resolution for this crisis. This is never an easy task considering the differences in culture and faith. We are praying for this war to end soon and that Meranao people, students, staffs and teachers would live a better Marawi.
Fr. Edwin Dela Pena’s Note:
Nagpakalat ako ng sagot laban sa mga bumabatikos kay Fr Chito kasi awang-awa talaga ako sa kanyang kalagayan nung nagtagpo kami sa Camp Aguinaldo kaninang hapon (Sept 19). Bumagsak talaga ang kanyang katawan at lugmok talaga ang kanyang kalooban. Please pray for Fr. Chito and the other hostages in the hands of the terrorists.Hindi sasali sa rally si Fr. Chito ayon sa mga haka-haka ng marami sa ating mga kapatid kasi matinding trauma ang inabot niya. Nasa debriefing ng AFP si father at matagal na gamutan pa ang gagawin sa kanya. Alamin ang katotohanan at doon ninyo hanapin ang katotohanan sa Camp Aguinaldo. Ang dating 36inches na waistline ni Fr. Chito ay sa ngayon 27 inches na lamang. Humingi siya ng dasal upang maaga sana ang kanyang paggaling. Ako na po makikiusap sa inyo mga kapatid. Itigil na po ninyo ang pagbatikos sa kanya. Hindi totoo ang bintang ninyo sa kanya. Lalo siyang nasasaktan sa ginagawa ninyo. Sa ganang akin naman pinatawad ko na kayo sa ngalan ng lahat na nagmamahal kay Fr. Chito. Peace, my friend!
MAy God bless us 🙏 Let’s pray for Father Chito’s faster healing and let us continue to pray for our troops and other hostages..