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As AFP rescues captive priest, Lorenzana vows to defeat all security threats

Rescued Roman Catholic priest Father Teresito Soganub, left, waves as he is presented to the media in a news conference Monday, Sept. 18, 2017 at Camp Aguinaldo in suburban Quezon city, northeast of Manila, Philippines. Philippine troops have rescued Soganub and another civilian who were among dozens of people abducted in May when hundreds of militants aligned with the Islamic State group laid siege on southern Marawi city, officials said. At right is Defense Chief Delfin Lorenzana. AP/Bullit Marquez

MANILA, Philippines — Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenza on Monday warned groups posing a threat to the country's national security that the government would defeat them as the military formally presents a priest who was held captive by Islamist militants in Marawi City for more than 100 days.

Lorenzana said security forces would remain "strong, able and committed" in defeating both foreign and domestic threats to national security, days after the military captured a mosque in the Mindanao town used by members of the so-called Islamic State-inspired Maute Group as a strategic stronghold.

The defense chief said that the Philippine government would not allow these groups to gain a "foothold of even an inch" of the country's sovereign territory.

"Every soldier, airman, sailor, marine, policeman, and coast guard will be true to that commitment up to the point of offering the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that peace and security will reign in Marawi and in all parts of the country," the defense chief said in a statement.

President Rodrigo Duterte vowed that the fighting in Marawi would end only if the last terrorist had already been taken.

"That is my order to the Armed Forces and the police," he said.

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READ: No negotiation with terrorists to free Marawi priest, Duterte says

Lorenzana recalled how Teresito Larroza Suganob, a Catholic priest known as "Father Chito" in his community, and Lordin Acopio were rescued by the miltiary.

According to Lorenzana, Soganub, 51, and Acopio, 29, were rescued in Sangcay village in Dansalan, Marawi City at 11:45 p.m. on Saturday.

Suganob and Acopio were rescued by the soldiers as the military gained the advantage during an intense firefight between the two sides, according to Lorenzana, adding that the battle exploded as government troops moved to retake Bato Mosque, a strategic stronghold of the militants.

"As the intensity of the armed confrontation continued to escalate in favor of our troops and while the terrorists were busy repelling the attack, the troops had the opportunity to snatch Fr. Chito and Mr. Acopio during melee," Lorenzana chief said.

Duterte said: "He was liberated through a special operation. Ginapang yan ng mga rangers."

The two were immediately brought to the headquarters of Task Force "Trident" where they were given medical attention, he said.

Lorenzana commended the troops for capturing Bato Mosque which was used by Islamist rebels as a machine gun nest, sniper lair, assembly point for improvised explosive device and storage area for other combat supplies.

"This was a very significant development," Lorenzana described the capture.  

Aside from the rescue of the two hostages and the capture of a strategic staging base, the military also recorded several victories.

"Three days ago, on 15 September 2017, our Marines assaulted and seized Jamaitul Philippine al-Islamiya (JPI) school in fierce five-hour firefight. Troops recovered several IEDs. The terrorists used the school as their hospital and burial site for their dead cohorts," the defense chief said.

On September 16, another Maute stronghold, the Jamaitul Islamiya Marawi Foundation, was regained by the military, according to Lorenzana.

Islamist militants have been holed in a small area at the central district of Marawi City for more than 100 days now despite ground and air assaults by the military.

This has become the most serious security problem to face Duterte to date and the most significant terror event to occur in Southeast Asia since the 2002 Bali bombings.

As of September 17, 673 militants and 146 soldiers and cops have been killed. Forty-seven civilians have also died in the siege which has displaced more than 200,000 residents.

"I am confident that the soldiers, airmen, sailors, marines, policemen and coast guards will be able to accomplish their mission sooner than I expected," Lorenzana said, without giving a specific target date for the end of battle as the government in the past has already failed to meet several deadlines.

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