‘Bakwit’ graduation: MSU Marawi to hold graduation rites in MSU Iligan

MARAWI CITY  (MindaNews / 07 July) — Neighboring Iligan City has been hosting thousands of Marawi residents since clashes between government forces and the Maute Group here started on May 23, it has also hosted the “command center” of Marawi City Hall and the “satellite office” of Lanao del Sur provincial capitol. On Thursday, July 13, it will host the graduation rites of the Mindanao State University’s (MSU) main campus here.

Dr. Habib Macaayong, MSU President, told MindaNews Friday afternoon that “the original plan” was to hold the graduation at the main campus here but “due to the clamor of the majority of the parents and the graduating students,” the 52nd Commencement Exercises (Class 2017), will be held instead at the MSU-Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT) in Iligan City, some 40 kilometers away.

Macaayong said they wanted the graduation held in the campus of this 56-year old state university because “we believe that there is peace inside the MSU campus because it has not been affected by the skirmishes downtown.”

Dr. Habib Macaayong, president of the Mindanao State University (MSU) system on Friday tells MindaNews that MSU main campus will hold its graduation on July 13 in MSU-Iligan Institute of Technology in Iligan City due to the clamor of parents and graduating students. MindaNew photo by MANMAN DEJETO

“This is a peace zone. This is a university of peace,” Macaayong said. But he explained that they have to respect the wishes of the parents and students.

It is the first time in its 56-year history that the MSU main campus’ graduation ceremonies will be held in another MSU campus.

The Marawi Crisis entered its 46th day on Friday.

Before the crisis, President Rodrigo Duterte, the first Mindanawon to become President of the Philippines and the first with Maranao blood (Duterte’s grandmother was a Maranao), was invited to be the commencement speaker but his appointments secretary said he could not attend. In his stead, Secretary Datu Abulkhayr Alonto of the Mindanao Development Age a resident of Marawi City, will be the graduation speaker.

MSU main campus has a student population of 17,000 and a teacher population of at least 1,000, Macaayong said.

This year’s graduates number 2,200 but Macaayong said only about 1,200 have confirmed attendance in the graduation rites.

The entire MSU system– composed of the main campus, MSU-IIT in Iligan, MSU-Tawi-Tawi College of Technology and Oceanography in Bongao, Tawi-tawi; in Naawan, Misamis Oriental, General Santos City, Dinaig in Maguindanao, and Buug in Zamboanga Sibugay and its three satellite campuses in Lanao del Norte had 78,000 students as of schoolyear 2016 – 2017.

Back to school in August

Classes for schoolyear 2017-2018 will start on August 7 and enrolment begins on July 31.

Whether or not students will return to campus next month is a big question but Macaayong is confident that the students and teachers will come back.

“Our students have been used to our campus … they cannot find any campus like MSU,” he said, adding the students will return “because MSU has been giving almost all free education to all our students.”

Aside from free tuition, students also get book allowance, dorm accommodation, and a full scholar gets a stipend of P1,500 a month.

He said a committee has been created to contact the students to return to campus this semester.

“We have to convince our students we are in a normal situation. See, walang nasunog na bahay,  walang nabombahan” (no houses burned, no bombed structures, Macaayong noted.

The owner of a store adjacent to the MSU-Main Campus in Marawi City closes shop and calls it a day on Friday, 7 July 2017. MIndaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

The campus is located some five kilometers from the war zone, according to Macaayong. In one part of the campus, in Barangay Cabingan, residents did not evacuate, in contrast to neighboring areas where only stray dogs could be seen on the streets, houses and stores shut down.

Macaayong has not left the campus since Day 1 of the crisis. Like other government offices in Marawi, office operations were suspended due to the crisis but resumed here two weeks ago, he said.

The state university used to be predominantly Christian but these days it is “50-50,” Macaayong said.

Students come from not only the Lanao provinces but also from, among others, Surigao, Zamboanga, Agusan and Bukidnon.

Not trapped

Macaayong clarified that some 300 students who were reported trapped inside the campus when the Maute Group laid siege on the city on May 23, were not trapped but stranded since transportation services to and from Marawi were stopped.

“Wrong ang term na ginamit. There was no fight, no untoward incident inside the MSU therefore walang na-trap,” he said.

The university linked up with various institutions to get the stranded students and faculty out of Marawi City. It was a good thing it was vacation and only a few students were around, those who were completing requirements, he said.

He said the Maute Group was not able to take over the campus because it was immediately secured by its security force, aided by the Army and a few days later, by the Marines, he said.

A curfew has been imposed all over Marawi from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Macaayong was in his office when the Crisis began. Having secured the campus, the MSU President,  like most residents, thought it would be over soon. Then the bombs came.

“Only the military has bombs and it is very rapid,” Macaayong said, adding they could hear faintly the gunshots but the bomb explosions were “talagang malakas” (very loud).

Transfering schools

MSU main campus students who wish to enrol in other MSU campuses may do so but they will not be able to avail of the scholarship grant from the MSU main campus.

“Kung iwanan mo, wala ka nang scholarship grant” (if you leave, you will lose your scholarship grant),” he said.

The university has an Institute of Peace and Development and links up with non-governmental organizations on their programs on peace building and dealing with violent extremism. He said they were not able to monitor activities of campus groups espousing violent extremism.

MSU, according to its website, has a peace building mandate, “with most of its campuses located in conflict- affected areas in Mindanao.”

MSU campuses, it said, “are expected to compete with MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front), MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front) and ASG (Abu Sayyaf Group) camps in attracting young Muslims.”

MSU is an “affirmative action policy instrument for the multiculturalist integration of the Muslims and other cultural minorities into the mainstream of national life.”

From University of Mindanao to MSU

MSU was established on September 1, 1961. The law creating it was amended several times. RA 1387 passed in 1955 created the University of Mindanao in what was then referred to as Dansalan City.  

In 1957, the law was amended by RA 1893 to include a preamble that there is a need to accelerate the program of education “among the peoples of the south, particularly the Muslims and other cultural minorities.”

It said a more extensive professional and technical training and instruction in Literature, Philosophy, Sciences and Arts, “particularly the Native Culture, Literature, Philosophy and Sciences and a more extensive research of the above, especially those relating to Filipino Culture, Literature, Philosophy, Sciences and Arts, become necessary to implement the policy of the Government in its desire to integrate the National Minorities into our body politic.”

Its original name under RA 1387 was University of Mindanao but this was renamed by RA 3791 in 1963 to Mindanao State University (MSU).  It is not clear why the name was changed.

On December 21, 1966, three years after RA 3791 was passed renaming the university to MSU, the Mindanao Colleges, a private non-sectarian school which was established in July 1946, with main campus in Davao City, was given its charter as the University of Mindanao, Inc.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)