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Mindanao State University: A haven for criminals?

November 5, 2012 8:17pm

First in a two-part series
For alumnus Marc Castrodes, the state-run Mindanao State University (MSU) used to be “heaven here on earth” for its students and faculty who enjoyed its misty mornings and scenic location overlooking Lake Lanao in Marawi City.
But those days seem long gone, with a rash of fires and succession of violent incidents in the campus shattering the idyllic atmosphere in what had been a prestigious institution.
“MSU today with rampant criminality seems to be a haven for drug dealers, thieves, rapists, and killers. Everyone can freely enter the campus. Nobody checks. Nobody cares,” wrote Castrodes, a lawyer, in an open letter addressed to President Benigno Aquino III.
The latest attack happened last Oct. 25, when a number of still-unidentified men stormed the Mindnolia Internet café in a commercial area inside the campus and killed its owner, Professor Othello Cobal, and student Erwin Diaz before burning down the place.
It was the third fire in recent memory on campus. The school’s College of Hotel and Restaurant Management and a dormitory earlier burned down in separate incidents.
Also, the victims have not been limited to students and teachers. At around 9 p.m. on Aug. 8, three soldiers from the Army's 103rd Infantry Brigade died when an unknown number of men fired at them near the MSU campus. Their commander, Col. Daniel Lucero, attributed the attack to the army’s campaign against illegal voter registration.
In the wake of Cobal’s death, the Mindanao State University Alumni Association released a statement on Oct. 29 calling for an “investigation of the lawlessness in the campus.”
The statement said: “The despicable and gruesome acts committed in broad daylight by lawless elements have no equal in the history of terror, mayhem and violence that have plagued the Mindanao State University in recent years. Indeed, the incident [on Oct. 25] capped the many unsolved cases of banditry, kidnapping, rape, ambuscade, arson and other forms of lawlessness whose doomed victims have always been the vulnerable faculty and students of the University.”
In his letter, Castrodes said the last time MSU had any “semblance of order and direction” was under the leadership of retired Philippine National Police Deputy Director General Ricardo de Leon. According to published reports, de Leon was appointed to the post in 2005 to clean up the “mess” that included security problems as well as the proliferation of drug pushers and squatters on campus.
But as soon as de Leon left, MSU “slid back, even deeper (into) apathy and mediocrity,” Castrodes narrated.
Not worse than before?
Senior Superintendent Romeo Magsalos, who served as MSU’s Vice President for finance and administration from 2005 to 2008 under de Leon, declined to comment on the comparison between their term and the current leadership.
“It would be self-serving kung magsasalita ako ng ganyan,” he said. “I would rather keep mum about whose decisions are better, in all fairness to university officials.”
Currently the Philippine National Police (PNP) Provincial Director for Lanao del Sur, Magsalos also disputes the assertions from MSU alumni that the situation in the campus has worsened.
“Dito sa MSU merong ngang nangyaring ganon pero hindi naman correct to say that. I don't agree na worse na ang situation ngayon. I may be wrong, but that's not how I see it,” he said.
Magsalos dismissed the attack last August on the soldiers as “an isolated case,” adding, “It doesn’t happen every day at ang mga ganong nangyayari are beyond the control of university officials.”
He also said the series of fires was mere “coincidence,” with the blaze in the dormitory traced to an unattended stove and faulty electrical wiring. The fire in one of the colleges was probably not a case of arson either, Magsalos said.
The former university official declined to comment on the other problems hounding MSU, including the alleged proliferation of houses squatting on university land.
Lone witness
According to Magsalos, a task force composed of members from the Bureau of Fire Protection, Scene of the Crime Operatives, and the university’s security personnel has been created to look into the killing of Cobal and Diaz.
As of posting time, no arrests have been made and the authorities have yet to come up with a final report. “We are doing our level best to find out the correct and most validated information,” Magsalos said.
Their lone witness is Diaz’s sister, who was with Erwin in Mindnolia that day. According to her, there were three attackers, all about 20 to 25 years of age, Magsalos says.
“Sabi daw niya na pag nakita nya ‘yung tao she can identify them,” he said. Magsalos would not divulge her first name for her own safety, but says that she is under the protection of the National Bureau of Investigation in nearby Iligan City, where she is being treated for her injuries.
‘A very decent man’
Samira Gutoc-Tomawis, an alumna and member of the MSU Board of Regents, noted that the incident occurred in broad daylight in a busy commercial area and yet, no other witness has gone to the authorities.
“It's so frustrating; the civilians are not coming forward, no one,” she said.
Gutoc, a Marawi resident and also an Assemblywoman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, knew Professor Cobal as a debate advisor while she was studying law at MSU. She recalls having used the Internet facilities at Mindnolia in the past.
“He was a very decent man who didn't deserve what happened to him,” she said. “He was the symbol of the enterprising Mindanaoan, and young people should keep his memory alive so that his work will not go to waste.” – YA, GMA News
Part 2: MSU as a zone of peace in Marawi City
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