MANILA – The Mindanao State University (MSU) will reopen its campus in Marawi City on August 22, even as government troops continue to battle Islamic State-inspired militants a few kilometers away.
Armed Forces spokesperson Brigadier General Restituto Padilla Jr. said an initial 800 students will be ferried by the military to the university campus in time for the resumption of classes.
Padilla also assured that the MSU compound remains safer now, compared to the situation there at the height of clashes where stray bullets would hit the university compound.
“So ngayon, nakaka-sigurado tayo na wala nang maaaring mangyaring ganon kaya tayo nagbigay-daan sa pagbabalik ng mga estudyante,” Padilla said in a news conference in Malacañang.
“Pero nariyan pa rin po ‘yung mga tropa natin. Hindi po sila aalis. We will provide security coverage until such time that we can assure that the main battle area is free of any rebel forces.”
The battle in Marawi continues to rage since it erupted in Marawi, but the military again gave assurances that the clashes will soon be over, with less than a hundred Islamist extremists holed up in less than a square kilometer of the city.
Padilla said the terrorists were still holding some 30 hostages.
“The main battle area remains complex with the continued discovery of many IEDs and unexploded ordnance. And this is a part of the continuing challenges that we are facing and continuing to address,” he said.
“But operations, as I have mentioned, are progressing very well, and [I am] noting that we have had no one killed in action for the last eight days.
The Marawi crisis has left at least 746 dead, mostly terrorists.
Marawi residents remain barred from returning to their homes, but Padilla said residents in some areas surrounding the Lanao Lake may now go back to their respective houses.
Meanwhile, Padilla also appealed for more understanding from Muslim scholars who are asking the military to stop conducting air strikes which have cause devastation to parts of the city.
“Kinakailangan po naming gawin ito upang maiwasan po ang pagbubuwis ng buhay ng hindi lang po ng sundalo, kung hindi ng sino man po na maaaring naiiwan pa sa loob,” he said.
He also welcomed the move of Muslim religious leaders to issue fatwas (Islamic law ruling) against violent radicalism, saying these are “very critical ingredients in our program to fight and prevent the spread of violent extremism and radicalism.”
The violent clashes prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to place the entire Mindanao under martial law, saying the local terrorists were aiming to establish an Islamic State province in the Philippines.
The emergence of groups pledging allegiance to Islamic State has been considered the biggest security problem to face the year-old Duterte administration.
The rise of pro-Islamic State groups in the country has also raised alarm in Washington and the Philippines’ neighbors in the region, which fear that the notorious terror group was seeking to establish a new front in Asia amid its successive losses in Iraq and Syria.