Graduating Marawi pupils march to the sound of war
MANILA, Philippines – It didn't matter that the sound system couldn't drown out the noise of bombs dropping on the battle zone only 3 kilometers away. Military choppers also hovered to secure the venue.
There was no stopping the graduation ceremony of elementary students of the Mindanao State University Integrated Laboratory School (MSU-ILS) in Marawi City on Monday, July 17.
In their white togas and caps the graduating class of 2017 did not let the war dampen the celebrations.
Proud parents watched the graduates march. They smiled for the cameras, with medals hanging around their necks and ribbons on their chests.
"Ang saya-saya ng graduation. Masaya sila tlaga. Parang walang nangyari. Very successful ang event," said MSU-ILS Assistant Dean Professor Ebresamen Watamama Dipatuan. (It was a happy occasion. They were all so happy. The event was very successful.)
The ceremony was closely coordinated with the military. Safe passages were secured for the 150 graduating Grade VI pupils and 166 Grade 10 students and their families, said Dipatuan.
The military preferred the ceremony was held outside the city, but the university prevailed.
Some of the pupils at MSU-ILS live with their families inside the university compound and did not leave despite the clashes in nearby villages. Dipatuan herself did not evacuate.
But most came from nearby provinces, such as Maguindanao.
Last week, MSU college students held their graduation rites at the MSU satellite camputs in nearby Iligan City. The college population is more diverse, with many of them coming from nearby towns and provinces.
The photos taken on Monday do not show how they're suffering through the war that has raged for nearly two months.
But it's a year no resident of Marawi will forget. Among the graduating class are Christian students who feared their families would be targeted for their religion.
Dipatuan said some of the families of the graduating pupils had concerns, particularly the Christians who feared they might not be able to immediately leave the city after the graduation rites.
"Some still have trauma," said Dipatuan. Still, up to 150 of the 159 members of the graduating class attended the ceremony.
The Pagalaran family, for one, lost a 7-month-old unborn baby during the early days of the war. It was believed to be due to stress.
Weeks of war
MSU was one of the institutions immediately secured by the military on May 23 when homegrown terrorist groups that pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS) brought war to Marawi. They attempted to establish a caliphate in Mindanao where ISIS ideology would rule. (READ: Terror in Mindanao: The Mautes of Marawi)
The war is now nearing two months. Nearly a hundred soldiers and 400 enemies are killed in the clashes. Martial law remains and is expected to be extended. (READ: Marawi battle zone: Urban warfare challenges PH military)
Residents have called for the end of air strikes in Marawi, afraid that the bombs will destroy more homes in the battle zone or kill civilians who remain trapped inside.
But the military said the war would take longer if air strikes are not deployed against enemy snipers who have occupied tall buildings to slow down the advance of troops.