The Maute group of Philippines militants, which occupied and torched a Roman Catholic church, a jail and two schools in Marawi city of Mindanao island, has abducted residents, including a priest and a college professor, the media reported on Wednesday.
OFFICIALS in the Philippines are verifying reports claiming a Catholic priest and several parishioners have been taken captive by members of the Islamic State-linked Maute militant group.
CBCP president Archbishop Socrates Villegas said in a statement on Wednesday that members of the terror group forced their way into St. Mary's Cathedral and took Fr. Teresito "Chito" Suganob, along with a few others.
Villegas says the Maute gunmen are demanding that the government recall its forces, which have since been deployed in Marawi.
Duterte placed all of the southern region of Mindanao, which makes up roughly one third of the country and is home to 20 million people, under martial law, spokesman Ernesto Abella said in the nationally televised briefing.
He said the firefight happened at Markaz Barangay Basak Malutlut, Marawi City. He was furious that militants had hoisted the Islamic State flag in Marawi.
Martial law allows Duterte to harness the armed forces to carry out arrests, searches and detentions more rapidly.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte salutes the coffins of 15 soldiers killed in a gunbattle with Abu Sayyaf militants in Mindanao in August 2016.
"We are in a state of emergency", Duterte said after landing in Manila from a visit to Moscow, adding that skirmishes were continuing.
For his part, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter S. Cayetano said Mr. Duterte will be cutting short his four-day official visit to Russian Federation because the leader "feels "that he is needed in Manila as soon as possible".
"The Philippine government is in full control, and fully aware the Maute Group/ISIS groups have the capability (although limited) to disturb the peace". He said his office was able to validate reports that the Maute group has five hostages; however, the names were not immediately available.
"They were taken hostage, dinala to an undisclosed location", the bishop said, adding that they have not heard from the hostages since the incident.
In March, President Duterte pleaded for help from mayors in Muslim areas of the south of the country to deal with Islamist militants, and threatened to impose martial law there if the problem was not tackled.
The group, which is also known as the Islamic State of Lanao, have reportedly received support from ISIS.
Based in Lanao del Sur, the Mindanao province which includes Marawi, the Maute surfaced around 2013 with a bombing of a nightclub in Cagayan de Oro, a mainly Christian city in a neighbouring province, which killed six people. Troops found homemade bombs, grenades, combat uniforms and passports of suspected Indonesian militants in the camp, the military said.