Philippine Island Times Adventures of an American expat in the Philippines

July 19, 2007


Filed under: Mindanao — lapulapu @ 11:49 pm

Overlooking Marawi

[Note: So that people may retain some minimum degree of privacy, it is my policy not to include identifying information on this blog. I’ve maintained that for this post, though I was sorely tempted to deviate so that I could give full recognition to the many people who were so good to me and who are doing such important work at Mindanao State University. Warm regards to them all.]


When it comes to security, local knowledge is best. No one I talked with in Iligan thought it would be safe for me to take public transportation for the short 50km trip to Marawi. They did think it would be safe to go up in a private car, particularly if I had with me a Maranao, a member of the local Muslim tribe. My friends arranged just that and up I went with two Mindanao State University professors, one a Muslim and one a Christian.

There has been no serious trouble in Marawi for a few years now. The last all-out war was in 2000. At that time this beautiful spot was one of the main battlegrounds.

Battleground near Marawi

The hill, a communications center of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, was heavily bombed, and there was fierce fighting on the plains below. At the height of the violence, the road on which we traveled had army checkpoints every kilometer or so but it was still impossible to stop the ambushes. Our ride up behind heavily-tinted windows was uneventful and pleasant.

Army Checkpoint MSU

Mindanao State University is the only campus in the country for which security is provided by the army and the President is a General. He seems to have things well in hand, and in addition to keeping everyone safe, he has initiated many projects to advance the peace-building mission of the institution. All indications are that he has the complete confidence of the community.

Institute for Peace and Development, MSU

The President was meeting with alumni in the US when I arrived so I was received by the Vice President. He and everyone at MSU offered as warm and hospitable a welcome as one can possibly imagine.

With the Vice President

MSU administration staff

Administrators, staff, faculty, and students at MSU are a healthy mix of Muslims and Christians. Promoting good relations between the two groups is a central mission of the university and obviously it is successful. I expected that people would be respectful of one another and polite, but the widespread warmth and affection I saw surprised me. Muslims attend Christmas festivities with their Christian brothers and sisters (as they call them) and Christians join with Muslims during Ramadan. It is heartening to know that deeply devout members of the two faiths can live together so well, even in Mindanao. These are the members of the Buklod, an organization for people in mixed Muslim-Christian marriages.

Buklod, MSU

The Islamic City of Marawi is one of the great centers of Muslim culture in the Philippines.

Arch gateway to Lanao del Sur

Mosque, MSU

A Sultan’s bed

It rests high in the mountains on the shores of Lake Lanao, one of the largest bodies of fresh water in the country. The Maranao who live there are known as excellent traders and craftsmen and are famous for maratabat, which roughly translates as “pride”. I had the opportunity to meet with a number of Muslim scholars, Maranao and otherwise.

At the King Faisal Center

Scholar of Islamic Law

Explaining to me the veil

Just as I was leaving the King Faisal Dawah Center a couple of huge SUVs full of US Army Rangers drove up.

Rangers at MSU

My colleagues in psychology gave me a warm welcome. I hope to do some work with them from time to time.

Psychology Department MSU

The campus is truly beautiful.

Near the MSU resort hotel

Near the MSU open air restaurant

MSU restaurant

VIP lounge, MSU

I was asked to give impromptu lectures to a couple of psychology classes, a couple of history classes, and a class on international relations. When I asked the students what messages they would like for me to bring back to the United States, here is what they said.

“We want peace.”

MSU class

“Maranaos are friendly.”

MSU class–maybe international relations

“We are not all terroists.”

“Come visit us.”


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