GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 2 Dec) – In a bid to protect pupils and students in Region 12 from potential conflicts and various forms of violence, the Department of Education (DepEd) has declared all schools in the area as zones of peace.
Dr. Allan Farnazo, DepEd Region 12 acting director, said Monday he issued the declaration to establish all local private and public schools as neutral grounds in case armed conflicts would occur in any locality within the region’s four provinces and five cities.
Farnazo said such declaration was mainly an offshoot of a memorandum earlier issued by the DepEd central office that enjoined schools “in areas with armed conflict and/or peace and order problems” the posting of banners identifying them as peace zones.
The banners are printed with the message: “This school is a zone of peace, huwag po kaming idamay sa mga kaguluhan (please spare us from conflicts).”
The officials said they have so far completed the posting of such banner in all public pre-schools, elementary and highs schools in the region.
He said they also distributed the banners to private schools and DepEd school district offices.
DepEd records showed that the region has a total of 1,707 pre-schools, 1,692 public elementary and 402 secondary or high schools.
The total enrollment for school year 2013-2014 in public elementary and high schools in the region is listed at 724,795.
“These banners are meant to remind local stakeholders of the sanctity of our schools, that they should remain as neutral grounds and free from any form of violence,” Farnazo said in a radio interview.
He said children are among the most vulnerable sectors in local communities so they should be properly protected or secured.
“We should make sure that local schools, as well as pupils and students, are safe and well-secure at all times,” he said.
The memorandum, which was issued by Education Undersecretary Mario Deriquito, noted the cases of hostilities and violence that affected a number of schools in the country in the past several years due to conflicts between and among groups around the schools.
In several instances, it said some schools were used as hiding places and even as battlefields, placing in the crossfire some DepEd personnel, teachers, students and pupils.
“We have had cases of students and children taken hostage, resulting in injury or even death, emotional and psychological trauma,” the memorandum said.
It specifically cited the three-week siege in Zamboanga City last September by members of a Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) faction under its founding chair Nur Misuari and the attacks staged by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Midsayap, North Cotabato.
But Farnazo said the declaration of the region’s schools as peace zones was not only due to the recent conflicts but their resolve as well to fully implement the government’s child protection policy.
“This covers all laws pertaining to child welfare and protection, including the bullying law,” he added.