August 22, 2017. A date to remember.
It was the day that the students of Mindanao State University (MSU) Marawi City finally trooped to the still besieged city to reclaim their institution and asserted that war does not stop their education.
It was obviously a concerted effort by the officials, faculty, and staff of MSU, the Philippine Army, the LGUs of Marawi City, Iligan City, and the province of Lanao del Sur, and especially the organizing team of Balik MSU: Somombak Tano sa Pantaw a Mareg campaign. However, it is the students, who are the true heroes and heroines in this campaign because without their resolute determination to go back to their university amidst the bombing in downtown Marawi City and stray bullets in the campus at that time—normalcy would not have happened two months before the city was declared liberated on 23rd October 2017.*
Through the generosity of the MSU administration, MSU alumni from Australia, United States of America, United Kingdom, Canada, Singapore, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Philippines, and some individuals and organizations, returning MSU students were given free Lawanen shirts as well as free transportation to the campus.
The Lawanen shirt is named after one of the old dormitories of MSU, the Princess Lawanen Hall (PLH) which is also in honor of the famous protagonist Princess Lawanen in the Darangen, the Meranaw epic. It is designed by Hassanodden Hosni M. Hashim, a member of the Okir Art Club of the university and one of the core members of the organizing Pantaw a Mareg Team.
Almost two thousand students have already received the Lawanen shirt, which they describe as more than just a shirt—it is a badge of courage, a warrior shirt, a symbol of unity, a wearable trophy, and a marker of the generosity of MSU alumni and MSU well-wishers.
This is what the recipients (who fondly call themselves as Lawanen kids) say about the Lawanen shirt.
Mariel Grace C. Bucog, 19, 3rd year BSF-Agroforestry, Dao Pagadian City, Zamboanga del Sur
Owning the Lawanen shirt is a sign that I bravely fought for education despite the risks it entailed. Wearing it in front of everyone might help lift the faith of other students to hope and pray that the situation we have now is not the end for us. We just have to believe that God has a purpose why it (Marawi Siege) happened. Gusto kong ipakita sa non-MSUans na buhay pa ang MSU Main. Gusto kong malaman nilang lahat na isa ako sa mga Christians na hindi natakot at taos-pusong bumalik sa MSU dahil sa hindi maipaliwanag na dahilan.
Winsor Albiso, 19, 2nd year, BS Nursing, Cotabato City
It symbolizes the life of a true MSUan. We study hard not just to get passing grades, but despite what is currently happening inside the city, a true MSUan will never be afraid to face the real challenge inside and outside the campus. Lawanen shirt symbolizes the love that a student could show to our dear Mindanao State University (MSU) Marawi. A campus full of diversity and full of surprising and exciting challenges. I want to own a Lawanen shirt because I want to show to the world, the Philippines rather that I am confidently MSUan with a heart.
Charosel R. Gingo, 22, 4th year, BSEd Filipino, Surigao del Norte
Lawanen shirt is not just a T-shirt. It means a lot to me. Bilang isang studyante ng MSU-Marawi ang Lawanen shirt ang siyang magsisilbing palatandaan na ako ay isang MSUan, na kahit sa ano mang laban ay kaya kong makipagsabayan. At ipapakita ko sa lahat habang suot-suot ang damit na ito na ako ay nanggaling sa isang di pangkaraniwang eskwelahan—eskwelahang nagturo at humubog sa aking pagkatao. Nagturo sa akin kung paano lumaban ng may paninindigan at may katapangan. Ang Lawanen shirt na ito magiging sandata ko at ipapakita ko sa buong mundo kung anong meron ako at kung saan ako nanggaling.
Mack Jeran Moreno, 23, 3rd year BS Social Work, Surigao del Sur
Coming back to MSU is a great challenge to all MSUans. Wearing the Lawanen shirt is a sign of my courage that I already overcame my fear. It symbolizes my loyalty to MSU that amidst war and threats I did come back to continue what I have started will finish the race.
Angelyn S. Binaoro, 18, 3rd year, BSBA Management, Simbuko Kolambugan, Lanao del Norte
It symbolizes that in every struggle or every sacrifice that we have encountered as we went back to MSU, we have proven that we can survive.
Jessiel Batoy Gumapac, 19, 4th year, BS Civil Engineering, Oroquieta City, Misamis Occidental
I want to bring pride to MSU Main—the University where my heart belongs. Just imagining myself wearing that shirt made me feel like a real survivor. I want to show to other people that despite what happened here I am still proud to be called an MSUAN and that I am loyal to this university. Wearing this shirt could be a great help to regain the trust of other people—in that manner, I could help. The shirt symbolizes the bravery, optimism and determination of Mindanao State University-Main to overcome.
Jomar Unda Abulkhair, 21, 3rd year, BS-Forestry, Masiu, Lanao del Sur
The Lawanen shirt gives me hope and reminds me that I am a true warrior. We are warriors who fight and defend our homeland (MSU) and the Lawanen shirt is my armor.
Davies L. Tuhod, 20, 3rd year, BS Psychology, Pagadian City, Zamboanga del Sur
As a Christian, I wholeheartedly support the Meranao people for them to feel belongingness and empathy. This shirt symbolizes not just our existence as SURVIVORS but our determination to bring unity and peace. In this way, we can uplift the Meranao spirit to give them hope, despite the discrimination they are facing by being generalized.
I am proud to wear this where ever I go and show to them that Christians and Muslims are together in this.
Omelkhair Hadjiali, 19, 3rd year, BS Social Work, Poona Marantao, Marawi City Buong pamilya ko po, ayaw po akong payagan na bumalik po dito sa MSU. Lalong-lalo na po ang aking ina. Ngunit ako po ang nag-pumilit na gusto kong bumalik dito. Kumuha po ako ng ticket ng di po nila alam. Nung malapit na po yung pag alis ko, kinausap ko po ng masinsinan ang aking ina. Umiyak po talaga ako sa harap nya. Hanggang sa pinayagan niya po ako kahit na alam ko pong labag ito sa kalooban nya.
Gusto ko pong makakuha ng Lawanen shirt hindi lang dahil libre po ito, kundi dahil sumisimbolo po ito sa pagiging matapang ko, na kahit alam ko pong delikado, buong pamilya ko kalaban ko, hindi pa rin po ako nagpapigil para makamit ang aking mga pangarap. At sana (in shaa Allah) sa muli po namin pagkikita ng aking ina, kung palarin po akong mabigyan, gusto ko po itong suotin para mapakita ko po sa kanya at sa aking pamilya na SURVIVOR ako.
Khalid Datumanong Rinamuntao, 19, 4th year, AB Philosophy, Taraka, Lanao del Sur
I think that through the Lawanen shirt, I will be able to show to my classmates, relatives, friends and others inside or outside the campus that it takes a lot of courage and effort to be a student of MSU. That is why we are called SURVIVORS.
Nasimah Hosaen Ibrahim, 21, 4th year, AB Filipino, Pagayawan, Lanao del Sur
Why should I have the Lawanen shirt? It is not just because of something I want a remembrance of, or I want as my identity that I am MSUan. I believe that this shirt will also leave me a scar of happy memories despite the Marawi siege, I did not surrender my education and instead, I risked my life just to survive. Because I trust Him, with the whole guidance of Allah subhanahu watallah, the only one who protects us.
Aslanie Batua-an Faisal, 19, 3rd year BS Mathematics, Wato-Balindong, Lanao del Sur
The Lawanen shirt gives us hope and encourages the students to continue their studies. There are many students who come from far places just like our Christian brothers and sisters. They had been brave in going back to our beloved university to continue their ultimate academic goal in life because they know becoming alumni in MSU has great potential globally and they love MSU as well. We are thanking you Ma’am Princess Lawanen especially for your kindness and compassion to your junior alumni (someday). For me, you are one of the reasons why MSU is still alive because of your concern. Thus, wearing Lawanen shirt makes us proud of ourselves and make us all feel survivors.
Fatima Alania A. Ibra, 20, 4th year, BS Public Administration, Ganassi Lanao del Sur
I want to have a Lawanen T-shirt to be part of the advocacy of MSU to establish a strong bond between the students and our beloved campus that whatever happens, we will not abandon our institution. MSU is the only remaining HOPE of every Maranao evacuee to return to their homeland. Without MSU, everyone will lose hope in coming back to his or her native homeland. Aside from that, despite the Marawi City Siege, I still choose to continue my study. Like every other MSUan who’s risking his or her life because of “Ligaw na Bala” and the “MG Threats” that are spreading inside the campus which makes us all paranoid, I am here to continue my journey to fight for my education. No more barriers, no more fear, no more discouragement and everything. Instead, motivation and courage should take place. I am PROUD to be MSUAN who will soon become a survivor not only in this crisis but also in life.
Lawanen shirt is not just a shirt. It has a huge sentimental value for me and it serves like my shining shimmering armor which encourages me to continue my studies and to never quit. It will remind us that not even war will become a barrier and hindrance to continue our journey with our beloved university.
Chris Margate, 18, 3rd year, BS Civil Engineering, Pasta, San Francisco, Agusan del Sur
It is the warrior’s shirt.
Fairlyn R. Solis, 24, 4th year BSED English, Surigao del Norte
It symbolizes courage—courage to come back to Mindanao State University I love the most. Lawanen shirt holds a history that I can share with my children in the future and to my future students as well.
Sittie Naidah H. Bokharie, 20, 3rd year, BSEd Biology, Malabang Lanao del Sur Lawanen shirt symbolizes power, unity, and courage of the students. It shows that MSU defeats terrorism and is ready to fight for the future.
Joharah Umpar Hadji Latip, 18, 3rd year, BS Civil Engineering, Marantao, Lanao del Sur
Lawanen shirt will serve as a reminder and trigger memories in the future every time I see it. It will remind us how we struggled and suffered under Martial law but still managed to rebuild Marawi again. This shirt will show to the world that we were fighters!
*(President Rodrigo Duterte declared Marawi ‘liberated from the terrorist influence’ on 17 October 2017; Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced the termination of all combat operations in Marawi on 23 October, six months to the day the Marawi Crisis began).
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Elin Anisha Guro of Marawi City, Director of the Mindanao State University Press and Information Office, is on study leave to finish her PhD at the School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne in Australia. She finished her MA Media Studies at the New School, New York City as a Fulbright Scholar)