Attack at MSU-Marawi: 3 soldiers killed, 10 hurt

A small unit of Army soldiers was recently assigned to the Mindanao State University in Marawi City, prompting criticism that this has made the campus vulnerable to attack

Amir Mawallil
Published 7:41 AM, August 09, 2012
Updated 2:32 PM, August 15, 2012

Facade of the Mindanao State University in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur

Facade of the Mindanao State University in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) - Alleged members of a criminal syndicate ambushed a group of Army soldiers patrolling in the vicinity of the Mindanao State University's main campus (MSU) in Marawi City late Wednesday night, August 8, killing 3 troops and wounding 10 others.

At least 20 students were hurt in the crossfire, according to school authorities. Two soldiers in critical condition are now in Sanitarium Hospital in Iligan City, according to Capt Alberto Caber, spokesman of the 1st division.

Mindanews reported that two civilians also died, including a 10-year-old boy, when the same gang attacked another Army base guarding the Agus hydro dam in the city. We could not independently confirm this.

The university attack occurred while troops belonging to the 65th infantry battalion on board two military trucks were patrolling the 433-hectare MSU compound at about 9 pm Wednesday, according to the Army's 1st infantry division.

Col Daniel Lucero, commander of the 103rd infantry brigade, said the soldiers were responding to indiscriminate shots at the MSU campus when “ambushed by members of the armed gang."

Lucero identified the gang leader as Otik Gamal, who has about 20 followers, mostly relatives of Marawi City Mayor Fajad Salec, according to sources quoted by the Army officer.

“The university is closed right now; none can enter nor leave the campus. Students are scared; rifles are fired inside the campus,” Lucero said in Filipino early Thursday morning.

Soldiers' role

The Marawi-based soldiers helped the Commission on Elections in the general voters' registration in July and played a key role in reducing the number of ghost voters in Marawi from 67,000 to 43,000, Army officers told Rappler. The Army there has also been active in helping police run after drug syndicates and illegal loggers in the area.

Beyond this, the Army's assistance was sought recently by local officials after students were threatened by their landlords during the voters' registration. The students reportedly refused their landlords' request for them to register under fictitious names, Lucero said. The landlords were apparent supports of a mayor.

"We were requested by ARMM Gov Mujiv Hataman and Lanao del Sur Gov [Mamintal] Adiong to post these soldiers at MSU," Lucero told Rappler. "We have a small unit securing the students."

A few years ago, the Army also set up a detachment at the main entrance of the university, following a series of kidnappings and criminal activities affecting students.

This has prompted criticism that the Army's presence has made the campus vulnerable to attack.

Dr Macapado A Muslim, president of the MSU System, told Rappler in a phone interview, that the incident had nothing to do with MSU. "It has nothing to do with MSU. It's just that, unfortunately, it happened inside the campus," he said.

Muslim denied accusations that the campus is militarized. He explained that the Army's presence in the campus has been "positive," and soldiers at times helped university guards in securing students there.

Maj Gen Ricardo Rainier Cruz, 1st division commander and Lucero's superior, called on all units to stay vigilant and continue pursuit operations against the armed groups behind the attack.

No to rumors

"As facilitator of community development, we sometimes suffer in the hands of lawless [groups] who disturb the peace, but let us not allow them to continue," Cruz said in an SMS message. "We serve for our people, let's go for justice."

In Maguindanao, the Army suffered attacks from rebels belonging to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters last Sunday evening, August 5.

The MSU siege and Maguindanao clashes have spawned rumors of war in Mindanao.

Because of this, Hataman, acting governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, issued a statement assuring the public that the regional government will run after those responsible for the attacks.

“Again, I'd like to appeal to everyone to please double check facts before posting on social media. Let us not cause undue panic which may hamper government operations. Let us be part of the solution and not cause further trouble. Rest assured that we in the ARMM are doing whatever we can to ensure the welfare and security of our people,” Hataman said. - with reports from Glenda M. Gloria/