Students divided over Iqbal’s Xavier University invite

MANILA, Philippines – After the deadly Mamasapano clash, students of Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan (XU) are divided on their school's decision to confer commencement awards to Mohagher Iqbal, chief peace negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

"Some graduating students are afraid that the university invited the 3 [since] the Bangsamoro Basic Law is a hot issue, [as well as the] Mamasapano tragedy," Harold Laborte, president of XU's central student government, told Rappler on Tuesday, March 3. 

The university’s Board of Trustees (BOT) decided to honor Iqbal, together with presidential peace adviser Teresita Quintos Deles and government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, as early as November 29, 2014, during a meeting of its board of trustees.

Because of their efforts "to engage in democratic dialogues and negotiations for peace in Mindanao," Deles will receive a Honorary Doctorate, while Ferrer and Iqbal will receive the Fr William F Masterson SJ Award for contributions to social development.

"By conferring these awards during the 2015 Commencement Exercises, Xavier hopes to inspire her graduates to be brave and bold, and not be afraid to walk the demanding but necessary path of peace in our troubled island of Mindanao," XU president Roberto Yap said in a February 23 statement.


But many students are worried about the decision, especially in light of the January 25 clash.

On January 25, 392 commandos of the Philippine National Police's Special Action Force conducted an operation to arrest two high-value targets, alleged bomb makers Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir or Marwan, and Filipino Abdul Basit Usman, in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao.

The operation resulted in a bloody clash between SAF troopers and rebel forces that claimed at least 65 lives, including 44 SAF troopers. Marwan was also killed, but Usman escaped. (READ: TIMELINE: Mamasapano clash)

Laborte said student opposition only surfaced after the Mamasapano incident, and when the invitation was already publicized outside the university. 

"May open talaga and [some] were shocked and saddened (There are those who are really open to it, while some were shocked and saddened," he said in a phone interview. 

There are also rumors of student walkouts, but Laborte said these are not yet validated.

The planned conferment rites are also getting flak online. In a post on Facebook page PH Watch, some people are calling on the university to rethink its decision.

Post by PH Watch.


Red alert

Despite recent events, the university believes it should proceed in conferring the awards to the 3 who are "clearly committed to peace." (READ: Peace panel: Traitors or protecting gov’t?)

"More than ever, especially after the Mamasapano tragedy, Xavier University signifies its support for staying the course in pursuing peace by honoring three leaders: Teresita Quintos-Deles, Miriam Coronel-Ferrer and Mohagher Iqbal, for their commitment to peace based on truth and justice," Yap said.

Laborte said the university will be on "red alert" during the 2015 Baccalaureate Mass and University Convocation on March 26. 

"I heard the university is making efforts to communicate with the army, the police, and the local government for heightened security," he said.

He asked the students for their appreciation, understanding, and cooperation since the decision to confer the awards was not done overnight. 

Moro groups have appealed to those seeking a return to an all-out war against the MILF, to reconsider their stance, citing the cost of a raging armed conflict in Mindanao. (READ: All out war? Try living in Mindanao) 

According to government records, the 4-decades-long war in Mindanao has claimed 120,000 lives, billions of pesos in infrastructure damage, and has pushed back development in the region, where some of the poorest Filipinos can be found. –

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.