KITCHARAO, Agusan del Norte (MindaNews/13 July) — Teachers of Kitcharao Central Elementary School here came to school on Friday but were unable to teach because students, apparently traumatized by the clash between police and rebel forces near their school on Thursday afternoon, did not show up.
Charito Bermejo, the school’s principal, said they have 1,124 students but “no one came here today because they were terrified by yesterday’s firefight.”
The New People’s Army (NPA) attacked a police station in Alegria town in Surigao del Norte at around 3:30 p.m. on Thursday and withdrew towards neighboring Kitacharao, some 150 meters from the school, where they clashed with police officers. Two suspected rebels were killed.
Ayrita Monterola, Grade 1 teacher said her classroom’s wall was not spared, pointing to a bullet mark on the wall. “Good thing no one got hit by bullets here. Several meters across our school rebels and police had exchange of gunfire,” she said.
Monterola recalled that minutes before the gunfight in Kitcharao, parents had rushed to the school to fetch their children, as soon as they heard that the Alegria police station, located about a kilometer away, was attacked.
She said she was lecturing to her class when gunshots rang out. “I immediately ordered my 34 pupils and some parents who had rushed to fetch their children to drop to the floor. We closed the door and windows.”
“We learned there were some rebels who had entered our schools premises,” she said.
On Friday, not one student showed up for class. Some parents came to get their children’s bags. One parent came to for the child’s slippers.
What to do during armed clashes
Bermejo said she plans to conduct trauma and stress debriefing for the children next week.
She also acknowledged that while they have earthquake drills, they have yet to have a drill on what to do in case of clashes between government and rebel forces.
“I think it’s also good to train children and teachers in situations like this,” she said.
Xylex Joseph Amadeo, 8, a Grade 3 student told MindaNews he was “really scared.”
“My classmates were trembling in fear,” he recalled.
In statement dated July 12 but e-mailed to media on July 13, the NPA’s Front 16 congratulated those who participated in Thursday’s attack, said they seized eight M-16 firearms and other handguns and ammunition, apologized to the two policemen who were injured during the attack and promised to find a way to help them.
The statement, issued by Maria Malaya, spokesperson of the National Democratic Front – North Eastern Mindanao Region, also said they have taken captive four policemen identified as PO3 Vic Calubag Concon, PO1 Rey O’niel Morales, PO1 Joen B. Zabala and PO1 Edito F. Roquino.
It said the four policemen were riding a patrol car when nabbed by an NPA blocking force during the attack in Alegria.
The statement said the captives will undergo investigation but assured they will be treated well as “prisoners of war” and will be released if they have no “serious offenses.”
But it added that in order to speed up the process, military operations in the entire Surigao del Norte and neighboring areas in Agusan del Norte must be stopped. (Roel Catoto / MindaNews)