UNCOMMON VALOR | ‘I Survived MSU’ takes on new meaning for ‘bakwit’ graduates

July 14, 2017 - 9:13 AM
MSU-Marawi graduates Tenny Junson Andam and Phil Valerie Malinis, who fled the fighting and then helped their fellow evacuees. (photo by Lyne Grace Vergara)

The author is a senior AB Communication and Media student majoring in Development Communication. She volunteers for #DuyogMarawi as a writer. 

It was a moment that Phil Valerie Malinis and Tenny Junson Andam could hardly believe had come even as they stood in their togas among more than 2,000 similarly-clad students of the Mindanao State University-Marawi City waiting for their graduation rites to start on July 13.

No doubt it was unusual, this “bakwit” graduation that took place not in Marawi, where the battle between extremist gunmen and government forces that started on May 23 continued to rage, but at the gymnasium of the MSU-Iligan Institute of Technology, close to 40 kilometers away.

Everyone who marched that day was a bakwit, an evacuee from the fighting that had rudely interrupted their academic life, just as it had shattered life as usual and displaced hundreds of thousands of residents of Marawi and adjacent towns.

On May 23, Tenny was at the College of Forestry and Environmental Science working on the schedule for his thesis defense. Phil Valerie, on the other hand, was packing her books for her Social Work board examination review.

Because of the challenges students of the MSU-Marawi campus have had to overcome over the past 55 years, “I survived MSU” is more than just a cute slogan, it is a badge of pride for alumni. But nothing in the rigors of academic life prepared them for the terror of suddenly finding themselves in a battle zone, amid the explosions of bombs and the rattle of gunfire.

Although Tenny and Phil Valerie managed to hastily pack their clothes, they were unable to collect enough food to last through the two days they were trapped in the campus. And so, as tens of thousands of others, they decided on May 25 to take their chances and make for Iligan.

After nine hours on the road, they finally reached safety and were welcomed with warm food by MSU-IIT’s College of Arts and Social Sciences.

When they had regained their bearings, Tenny and Phil Valerie realized that, for all the difficulty they had suffered, things were far worse for all too many others who fled Marawi. And so they signed up as volunteers for the #DuyogMarawi solidarity initiative of the Ranaw Disaster Response and Rehabilitation Assistance Center and MiHANDs, helping prepare halal food, distributing these and hygiene kits to displaced persons in evacuation centers as well as those who had found shelter in the homes of relatives and friends.

After years away from Barangay Saray in Iligan, where he hails from, Tenny said he knows how important the warmth of home is for those who are far from it. “I felt their difficulties of being displaced. That’s why I decided to help,” he said.

Phil Valerie, who has lived on the MSU-Marawi campus for 21 years and considers it home, the M’ranaos as friends and neighbors, noted that a common problem in the relief efforts for the evacuees is the language barrier. Many M’ranaos find it hard to speak in other dialects and languages thus, “I grabbed the opportunity to volunteer so that I could help in the translation and make communication easier between volunteers and survivors.”

Tenny and Phil Valerie, now members of the aptly named “Pagsidan” — which translates to “bringer of hope” — MSU-Marawi Class of 2017, hope the determination that allowed them to overcome challenges, whether of education or of wars and other disasters, will serve them well again as they await the schedule of their licensure examinations this year.