MINDANAO has long been depicted as the Philippines' troubled island, grappling with socio-political turmoil marked by persistent violence between the government and Islamic terrorists. This conflict-laden narrative is prominently conveyed by international travel agencies and global mainstream media.
Despite a peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the largest separatist group, and the enactment of the Bangsamoro Organic Law in 2018, aimed at addressing the aspirations for autonomy, terrorism-related incidents persist in Muslim areas, including Marawi.
The motivation behind such acts — whether politically or religiously driven — remains a lingering question, akin to debates surrounding conflicts like the Palestine-Israel issue.
In 2017, Marawi, the capital of Lanao del Sur, endured a siege by Isis-affiliated militants, resulting in 1,000 casualties and marking the Philippines' longest urban battle.
Now, almost five years after the conflict, an explosion during a Catholic Mass at Marawi State University (MSU) gym on December 3, 2023, claimed four lives and injured at least 43.
While authorities have yet to confirm if the attack was orchestrated by pro-Islamic State militants, the recent military operation in Maguindanao del Sur, resulting in the killing of 11 militants including several members of the Dawlah Islamiyah-Philippines group in Maguindanao del Sur, 200 kilometers away from Marawi on Friday, December 1, heightens the possibility.
Based on the report, at least 10 high-powered firearms and three explosive devices were seized in the operation.
Davao City, despite its distance from Marawi, remains vigilant due to the 2016 bombing at the Roxas Night Market. Security measures are implemented as a precaution.
“Human sa nahitabong pag-bomba, ang DCPO pinaagi sa atoang City Director [PCol. Alberto Lupaz] nag announce dayon og tight security measures nga i-implement para mabantayan ang kalinaw sa atoang dakbayan. Nag-advise napud ta sa atoang mga head sa tanang police stations nga magbantay sa ilahang mga sakop especially sa atoang mga checkpoints to make sure nga dili mahitabo ang nahitabo sa Marawi (After the bombing, the DCPO, under the guidance of our City Director, PCol. Alberto Lupaz, promptly declared stringent security measures to be enforced for the preservation of peace in our city. We also issued advisories to the heads of all police stations, urging them to closely monitor their respective areas, particularly at checkpoints, to ensure that a similar incident to the one in Marawi does not occur here)," the official said in a phone interview.
Tuazon added that the city is currently secure and orderly, but they remain vigilant.
Even though Davao City is quite a distance from Marawi, security measures are rigorously enforced, a response stemming from the harrowing 2016 Davao City bombing at the Roxas Night Market on September 2, resulting in 15 fatalities and 70 injuries.
Subsequently, three out of the ten suspects associated with the Maute group, which maintains connections with Abu Sayyaf, were apprehended in the following months.
Several Moro leaders have expressed their sentiments on the recent bombing.
Lanao del Sur Gov. Mamintal Alonto-Adiong said in a statement, “I condemn the violent bombing incident that transpired this morning at the Dimaporo Gymnasium at the Mindanao State University during a Sunday mass congregation.”
He said, “Here in my province, we uphold basic human rights, and that includes the right to religion. Terroristic attacks on educational institutions must also be condemned because these are places that promote the culture of peace and mold our youth to be the future shapers of this country.”
On the other hand, Barmm member of Parliament Amir Mawallil, for his part, said MSU is home to both Muslims and Christians alike. "Our students should not be living in fear inside our schools, colleges, and universities. This is the sad reality that we need to address,” he said in a statement.
Calling for action on the government's security and investigation fronts, both Senator Bong Go and Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace, Reconciliation, and Unity (Opapru) Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. have underscored the importance of assisting those affected by the horrific attack.
“As vice chair of both Senate Committees on National Defense and Public Order, I call upon our law enforcement bodies to hunt down whoever is responsible and punish them with the full force of the law,” Go said.
Galvez said their agency is in touch with the Barmm leadership so that they can provide the necessary assistance to the victims and their families.
Cagayan de Oro City 2nd District Representative Rufus B. Rodriguez has released a statement urging a prompt investigation, emphasizing that his office is available to assist.
“We call upon the authorities to swiftly investigate this incident and bring the perpetrators to justice. We request the Barmm government to assist our authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice," Rodriguez added.
Shortly after the attack, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. condemned the bombing and pledged to bring justice for the victims through his official X (formerly Twitter) account.
“Extremists who wield violence against the innocent will always be regarded as enemies to our society,” Marco said. “Rest assured we will bring the perpetrators of this ruthless act to justice.”
The MSU administration has closely collaborated with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine National Police (PNP), and other government agencies responsible for disaster risk and humanitarian efforts to enhance internal and external security on the campus.
“The university administration has suspended classes until further notice and has deployed additional security personnel to safeguard the campus. We are also working closely with the local government units and law enforcement authorities to investigate this incident and bring the perpetrators to justice,” MSU said in an official statement.
It also said that violence has no place in a civilized society, and it is particularly abhorrent in an institution of higher learning like MSU, a bulwark of peace, harmony, solidarity, reverence for life and humanity.
"This attack is an assault on our core values and our commitment to creating a safe and inclusive community for all,” the statement noted.
Terrorism and bombing incidents in Mindanao are consistently traced back to active militant organizations whose members are dispersed across the mountains of Southeast Asia, notably within the autonomous Muslim region on the island.
These groups have exerted influence over the state, religious institutions, and academic schools. Notably, during the Marawi crisis, violent factions occupied Mindanao State University among other buildings. DEF