Report and photos by Angelo Lorenzo

As part of this year's Xavier University Festival Days (from November 29 to December 2) celebration, XU’s Office of Mission and Ministry, together with the Social Development cluster, attributed the second day’s afternoon for the soldiers who fought for Marawi’s freedom from the terrorists.

Set on Bonifacio Day, November 30, the tribute honored the soldiers as the country’s present-day heroes for their valor in reclaiming and defending the Islamic City of Marawi from the ISIS-inspired Maute group. Lasting for nearly six months, they emerged victorious in the battle.

“Xavier University pays tribute to the troops deployed in Marawi for their loyalty, bravery, and strength,” the event's poster read. “We salute them for the hardships endured during the Marawi Siege and for their willingness to sacrifice their lives so that others may live.”

Gratitude to the nation’s heroes

Gathered within the XU Peace Park (an open communal ground beneath a domed roof – a structure that resembles a shed for shelter), soldiers of different cultural and religious backgrounds paid their salute to the Philippine flag as the national anthem played in the background.

“This is our way of saying ‘thank you’ for all of what you have done for Marawi, for our people, and for our country,” said XU’s vice-president for mission and ministry Irene Grace Guitarte in her opening remarks.

“Let us continue to be grateful,” Guitarte added. “Let us be hopeful for peace to be possible.”

The message of gratitude was amplified by Araiz Buyog, president of the farmers’ cluster of Marawi City’s Barangay Bito Buadi Itowa, a resettlement site for refugees which was adopted by Xavier Ateneo.

Kami po mga IDPs, nagpapasalamat din kami. Hindi namin malilimutan hanggang sa kamatayan (The IDPs also thank you. We will never forget this even after death),” he said.

Buyog also expressed that if it weren’t for the soldiers, the civilians wouldn’t have taken refuge in safety and security when they had evacuated.

BANGON MARAWI. After the ceremony, audience members write their messages over the poster displayed at the XU Peace Park. 

Inspiring the youth

As part of the tribute, students from different levels of the Xavier Ateneo community recited letters and poems dedicated to the soldiers.

Ivan and Ivy Cutob, both twin siblings and six graders from the XU Grade School department, read aloud the letters which they had originally written. “You and your comrades are always in our prayers,” Ivan said. “Your courage and strength make you our heroes,” Ivy added.

English major Nicole Rose Baculio from the university’s School of Education shared poems she was inspired to write about the tragedy of the Marawi siege.

“Three shots, three lives; the ashes will rise. The shots will diminish. Marawi will rise again,” spoke one verse in her poem titled “Three Shots.”

Saang sulok man, iba’t ibang tinig ang naririnig; bata, matanda, Muslim o Kristiyano man, mga himig na naghahangad sa pag-asa para sa bayan (In every corner, voices are heard from young and old, Muslim or Christian, a melody for the nation’s hope),” declared another verse from a poem which Baculio named “Himig.”

One elementary pupil, Lucas Theodore Gono, also confessed in his speech that he was honored to see real-life superheroes by witnessing the presence of the soldiers; apart from the action figures he occasionally asked for as presents during his yearly birthday.

TRIUMPHANT. Soldiers reveal their proud smiles after receiving medals in their honor.

Living the legacy of St Francis Xavier

In his inspirational message, Xavier Ateneo president Fr Roberto “Bobby” C Yap SJ likened the soldiers’ undertakings to that of St Francis Xavier.

“We salute you like St Francis Xavier for also being ready to be sent for a mission,” Yap said.

The namesake of Xavier Ateneo and one of the founding fathers of the Society of Jesus, the congregation which runs all Ateneo schools and universities all over the country, St Francis Xavier had travelled across countries he had never been prior to the admonition of his superior in order to spread the Gospel in the 16th century.

According to Yap, the soldiers have exemplified the qualities of loyalty, bravery, strength, and sacrifice that were akin to Xavier’s traits in his divine mission.

“From our hearts, we thank you,” Yap said.

The ceremony concluded with Yap laying medals and handing certificates to each soldier in front of the applauding crowd. “Saludo sa Bayaning Pilipino! (Salute to Filipino Heroes!)” comprised the words that were engraved on the medal.

“There is always a hero in everyone,” said Brigadier General Tyne T Banyas of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, also the Assistant Division Commander of the 4th Infantry in his response speech.

“Each of us is a hero in our own way,” he said.

The City Government of Cagayan de Oro, through the City Social Welfare and Development Office, also donated reading glasses to the soldiers. These were among the many gifts given for their bravery and heroic patriotism.∎

HEROIC DUTY. Brigadier General Tyne T Banyas of the Armed Forces of the Philippines shares that each individual can be a hero in his or her own way.

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