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During Marawi conflict, MSU was a refuge

The Sunday morning bombing at the Mindanao State University's Marawi campus was shocking, heartbreaking, and personal all at once.

In 2017, my docu team and I journeyed to Marawi twice during the five-month conflict there between ISIS/Maute forces and the military.

Caught in between were thousands of civilians, including students and faculty of the sprawling, scenic campus overlooking Lake Lanao.

We audaciously aspired to produce not just an account of war’s horrific impact but of an alternative vision of a peaceful, harmonious society, even as Filipinos were killing each other.

We found that vision at MSU, where Muslim and Christian students made friends and mixed easily.

A vice president of the secular state university, a converted Muslim from Surigao named Dr. Alma Elape Berowa, called it a “social laboratory” where a Muslim from Jolo could find herself rooming in a dorm with a Christian from Cagayan de Oro.

A Christian student broke down crying during an interview when she recalled her Muslim friends helping her evacuate safely at the start of the war.

Both Muslim and Christian students attested that their college life debunked the stereotypes they grew up with about “the other.”

MSU welcomed back students even while the conflict raged in another part of the city, partly to reduce the disruption and enable their students to graduate on time but also to provide a semblance of normalcy outside the war zone.


MSU was a refuge from a war that was being fought a few kilometers away, and its resumption of classes was a brave demonstration of how a multicultural community can build on its diversity and thrive.

Throughout that conflict in 2017, MSU and its students were generally spared the ravages of war.

That tranquility was shattered on Sunday morning, a cruel irony after years as a safe space and as an example of what the Philippines can be.

MSU has shown its resilience in Marawi’s darkest hours. It will do so again. — DVM, GMA Integrated News