CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 26 March) – Ducking a political firestorm, Xavier University officials conferred awards to government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front chief peace negotiators Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and Mohagher Iqbal, and bestowed an honorary doctorate degree to Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles for “walking the difficult path for peace.”
“They were pilloried, maligned and even kicked in the social media networks and other forums but these two persons continued their work for peace,” said Fr. Roberto Yap, Xavier University president.
Yap awarded the Father William Masterson Award to Ferrer “for her exemplary contributions to peace-building and conflict management and as a champion for human rights.”
The same award was given to Iqbal for his “untiring work towards a negotiated settlement that eschews the ways of extremism and terrorism; democratic dialogue and his heartfelt service to bring peace and progress in our country.”
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles was also bestowed the honorary Doctor of Humanities honoris causa for her work in peace building in the country especially in Mindanao.
“Three peace negotiators. Three peace workers. They endeavored to walk the path of peace. Daghang salamat,” Yap said.
Yap said Deles, Ferrer and Iqbal should be considered as champions of peace and that the university shall stand beside them in their quest for peace.
“Xavier will stand for peace and starting today we proudly call these three as fellow Ateneans,” he said.
The awarding of Deles, Ferrer and Iqbal drew a firestorm among the university alumni who opposed the idea in the aftermath of the Mamasapano clash that also threatened to derail the 17-year-old peace process.
In meetings with university officials, several alumni also aired their fears that because of the presence of Iqbal, armed MILF fighters will be present during the commencement exercise in the school.
None of these fears materialized in the Thursday’s commencement exercises.
“We had great commencement exercises at Xavier University. No protests, no disturbances at all. Instead, students and parents were enthusiastic, happy and gave our honorees – Sec. Ging Deles, Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and Mohagher Iqbal – [a round of applause] after inspiring addresses,” Dean Antonio La Vina, of the Ateneo de Manila School of Government and Cagayan de Oro resident, wrote in his Facebook post.
He said he appreciated “that the leaders of the university had the moral courage to get on with these awards and did not get intimidated by cyber bullying.”
Deles, Ferrer and Iqbal were visibly overwhelmed with the warm reception from the university officials and students who lined up to get their “selfies and groupies” with them.
“Saludo po ako sa inyo (I salute you). We are not alone pala,” Ferrer thanked Father Yap, university officials and students.
Ferrer said she will draw inspiration from the life of Father Masterson who too was faced with the same opposition when the priest decided to transfer the Ateneo de Manila University in Padre Faura, Ermita, Manila to its present location in Quezon City.
She said the wisdom and determination of Father Masterson is now evident in the present location of the university in Quezon City.
“We are proud to follow his path,” Ferrer said.
For his part, Iqbal said he could not believe that one of the premier Catholic universities in Mindanao would bestow an award on him.
“I find it difficult to understand. Was I worth it? Then I realized Father Masterson was a luminary,” Iqbal said.
Deles said she was very proud that she was given an honorary award.
“It thrilled me very much,” she said.