Philippines: Marawi University Classes Begin as Clashes Continue

Jeoffrey Maitem and Froilan Gallardo
Marawi, Philippines
170822-PH-university-620.jpg Government forces guard the gates of Mindanao State University campus in Marawi City, Aug. 22, 2017.
Richel V. Umel/BenarNews

Clashes marred Tuesday’s reopening of university classes in the ruined southern Philippine city of Marawi as soldiers moved to drive out militants linked to the Islamic State (IS) from the downtown area they hold just two kilometers (1.2 miles) away.

About 8,000 Mindanao State University students braved the fighting and were bused into the area only to be greeted by explosions as a few militants hiding in a mosque fired at troops.

Regional military spokeswoman Capt. Jo-ann Petinglay confirmed the fighting was not enough to force a cancellation of classes even as she acknowledged the security situation has been tense.

“We would like to clarify that there is no lockdown at MSU campus or the immediate vicinity,” she said.

Military road blocks and check points were set up around the city to ensure that no Abu Sayyaf or Maute group militants could pass through and cause havoc.

She said militants clashed with troops early in the day, near the Marantao district, but there were no immediate reports of casualties.

Intelligence reports have indicated that the gunmen had been massing for a planned counter offensive, potentially giving the army logistical headaches in protecting the university’s students.

“There were no reported casualties on the government side and we are trying to figure out if the harassment was carried out by Maute supporters,” Petinglay told BenarNews.

About 8,000 students braved the violence to return to classes at Mindanao State University, Aug. 22, 2017. (Richel V. Umel/BenarNews)

Zia Alonto Adiong, spokesman for the local crisis committee, said no harassment can take away students’ rights to education.

As of Sunday, the military said 583 militants and 129 soldiers have been killed along with 45 civilians, while dozens of people, including a Catholic priest, are believed to be held hostage.

Petinglay said military officials suspect more than 60 militants were inside the main battle zone, including Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, the self-proclaimed chief of the IS in the Philippines.

The rebel contingent is backed by gunmen from the local Maute group as well as several foreigners from Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana found evidence to retain the names of former Marawi mayor Omar Solitario and his two sons among a list of 200 people wanted in connection with the siege that began May 23. The three had been granted safe conduct passes through military checkpoints, but police and military leaders “vehemently” objected.

“They are now subject to arrest,” he said.


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