Fire and failed dreams in MSU-Marawi
MANILA, Philippines – Othello Cobal, a Philosophy professor at the Mindanao State University's (MSU) main campus in Marawi, opened the very first Internet café in the city. Located inside the MSU campus, he named the place "Mindnolia," which soon became a popular hangout for students who were allowed to do online research there for free.
True to its name, Mindnolia housed many meetings of the mind as it became the unofficial headquarters of the university’s Debate Society, which Cobal established. As a professor, Cobal was a well-revered figure in campus and is credited for spreading the culture of parliamentary debate in Mindanao.
Aside from his academic pursuits, he also helped students in financial need, hiring them as student assistants for his shop.
Erwin Diaz, a breadwinner at 21, was one of those.
Diaz was with Cobal on that fateful day of Thursday, October 25, when unidentified men barged into the cafe, stabbed both to death and burned them and the entire 3-storey building where the Internet cafe was located. (The building also housed a branch of the Landbank.)
Diaz’ 13-year-old sister Estrella is in critical condition after suffering from second-degree burns.
The incident has triggered appeals from Mindanao State University alumni for a congressional probe on the spate of crimes in Marawi and, in particular, the vicinity of MSU.
Contrary to earlier reports that the main motive of the crime was robbery and the victims died of gunshot wounds, further investigation showed that nothing was stolen from the cafe and that no shots were fired.
The victims died of stab wounds; one body had its internal organs slashed open, according to Lanao del Sur Assemblywoman Samira Gutoc-Tomawis, who arrived at the crime scene with local police 5 hours after the incident. The suspects also used gas to burn the place down, she said.
It was the 7th fire incident in the university in a month, Tomawis said.
On October 9, the university's College of Hotel and Restaurant Management was also burned down. But this is the first fire-related crime that happened in broad daylight, according to Norkhalila Mambuay-Campong, Cabinet Secretary of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Last August, alleged members of a criminal syndicate ambushed a group of Army soldiers patrolling in the vicinity of MSU, killing 3 troops and wounding 10 others. At least 20 students were hurt in the crossfire.
Appeal to Aquino
On her Facebook account, Campong appealed to President Benigno Aquino III to step in.
“Mr. Cobal was a bachelor and a visionary like you, Mr. President. He introduced debate in the campus. Many of the achievers who graduated from MSU Marawi owe their love to speak and reflect to Mr. Cobal. His internet café, Mindnolia, was the first internet café in Marawi City. It served as the portal of the students to get connected to the outside world, to their love ones. He wanted to do so many things to motivate and guide the students. But he could no longer do that Mr. President. His life was unjustly taken by some lawless elements.”
Campong’s mother, former College of Hotel and Restaurant Management dean Cecile Mambuay, was Diaz’ mentor.
As a breadwinner, Diaz, had to stop schooling for a year, Mambuay said.
When he returned to university, he applied for an international practicum in Singapore that required him to travel to Cagayan De Oro for an interview. Short on cash, Diaz sold his rice cooker to pay for his travel expenses.
"With his tragic death, what will happen to his siblings? Who will support them? His mother was long gone. Am not sure about his father's whereabouts," Mambuay said in a Facebook post.
Despite the security issues, students from Mindanao, and even from as far as Palawan, enroll in MSU because it offers one of the cheapest tuition in the country at P50 per unit.
Lawyer Marc Castrodes lamented the decline of the university from a "serene, beautiful ...rural but intellectually stimulating" space to a place with "rampant criminality."
"MSU is no longer safe. Unlike before when the library was open until nighttime; unlike before when university activities could be held at night and students freely roamed around in safety. MSU today with rampant criminality seems to be a haven for drug dealers, thieves, rapists, and killers. Everyone can freely enter the campus. Nobody checks. Nobody cares. You could literally walk into the campus wearing a Bilibid uniform and nobody will stop you," his open letter addressed to President Aquino said.
Although the university has been criticized in the past for allowing soldiers to patrol its ground when retired police general Ricardo De Leon was the university president, some members of the community feel that a stronger hand might just be what it needs right now.
In a letter to the President drafted by Campong and Castrodes and which they're asking MSU alumni to sign or distribute, they said: "The last time MSU had the semblance of order and direction was when former PNP general Ricardo De Leon was appointed President. Those were some of the most peaceful months. It was then that MSU somehow reclaimed its lost beauty and stability. It was then that many MSU constituents reclaimed their dreams. But as soon as Mr. De Leon left, the University slid back, even deeper, in the quagmire of apathy and mediocrity."
Campong said she is hoping that their appeal does not fall on deaf ears.
"Our wish is that our appeal reaches the national bodies so they can conduct an inquiry. MSU is great in terms of academics. Their passing percentages, especially in Engineering and Social Sciences, are high. But secruity remains an issue," Campong said.
Tomawis said the police have yet to determine the motive behind the crime.
But she stressed that the incident is "isolated" and should not be linked with forces who are opposed to the recently-signed Framework Agreement between the government and the Moro International Liberation Front.
The remains of Cobal and Diaz have been transferred to Iligan City. They will be laid to rest in Alicia, Zamboanga Sibugay on Saturday, October 27. - Rappler.com