Pluralism reigns in Mindanao State University
John Unson (The Philippine Star) - September 2, 2014 - 2:51pm

MARAWI CITY, Philippines — There is a public university in the historic city of Marawi that produced more than 100,000 professionals in the past five decades and continues to help foster unity among culturally diverse groups through innovative social and peace courses.

While the Mindanao State University (MSU) is at the heart of this primarily Muslim area, students who belong to the Christian and indigenous non-Moro communities are neither obliged to wear the hijab (veil) nor restrained from engaging in congregational non-Islamic religious activities.

"Students here are being taught of the importance of respect for religions and cultures of one another," said MSU president Macapado Muslim.

The MSU, created on September 1, 1961 through the efforts of a Maranaw member of the Philippine Senate, Damocao Alonto, operates as an umbrella entity for eleven smaller universities in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and in Administrative Regions 9, 10, 11 and 12.

Alonto facilitated the creation of MSU through a legislative measure based on the need to integrate Mindanao's Muslim folks, that do not have access to quality education, into the Philippine socio-economic and political mainstream.

Thousands of MSU students and faculty members celebrated last Monday the university's 53rd founding anniversary, most of them clad in colorful traditional Moro attires.

The president of MSU and the guest of honor during the university's foundation day, Maguindanao Rep. Bai Sandra Sema, had both acknowledged, during a traditional Maranaw pagana (welcome banquet) for the lawmaker, that education is still the easiest, most convenient road to socio-economic and political stability in underdeveloped Moro communities.

The MSU main campus in Marawi presently has more than 25,000 students, majority of them from indigenous Moro communities.

Sema, a graduate of MSU who started as a teacher in her hometown, Datu Odin Sinsuat in Maguindanao, said there is need for the national government to increase by many folds its fiscal and technical support to the "MSU system," which encompasses universities that are accessible to Mindanao's Muslim sectors.

"We can do a 'regionalization' of some courses in these schools, like inland fisheries and farming in Maguindanao, where there are vast marshlands and rivers, business and entrepreneurship for the Maranaw areas, marine fisheries, rubber and orchard farming for schools in the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi," Sema told reporters.

Sema, while studying at the MSU main campus in Marawi City, was a firebrand activist who helped organize anti-Marcos rallies ang protests against the iron-fisted management under then University President and Lanao del Sur Governor Ali Dimaporo.

Dimaporo was a dreaded warlord who employed private armed groups that he used to perpetuate political power. He was also known for his "canine loyalty" to late strongman Ferdinand Marcos, who placed him to head the educational institution while a government official.

"I can help this university convince legislators in the ARMM and those in areas where there are schools under the MSU system to stand as one and focus on formulation of complementing laws that can maximize the nation-building efforts of these state schools," Sema said.

In separate speeches during MSU's foundation day program, Sema and Muslim, himself a graduate of the university, acknowledged the contributions of President Benigno Aquino III to the educational development of students in different state universities in Mindanao.

"He gave us 89 infrastructure projects in campuses under the MSU system in recent years. Some of these projects are still being implemented," Muslim said.

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