DepEd-12 to military, BIFF: Spare schools, children from fighting

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/27 Feb) – The Department of Education (DepEd) in Region 12 called on the military and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) on Friday to spare the children and local schools from the armed conflict.

Dr. Allan Farnazo, DepEd Region 12 director, issued the call after Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Gregorio Catapang ordered an all-out offensive against the BIFF.

He said both parties should exert efforts to make sure that school children and local schools will not be affected by their operations.

The official said that women and children are the most vulnerable and suffer the most when conflicts arise in their communities.

He said it could be seen in the latest conflict in parts of Pikit, North Cotabato between the BIFF and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Around 2,500 pupils and students were earlier reported displaced by the clashes that affected 10 villages of Pikit.

“I hope both parties will put premium in their minds that women and children should always be spared from any conflict,” he said.

Farnazo said they should make sure that classes in schools will not be disrupted and used in any way for their operations.

He said the International Humanitarian Law and several other United Nations conventions specifically prohibit the use of schools for any purpose in armed conflicts.

“Schools should not be used as meeting places, operations base and command centers,” the official said.

Farnazo said both parties should instead regard schools in the entire region as “zones of peace.”

DepEd-12 declared all schools in the region in late 2013 as peace zones in a bid to protect pupils and students in from conflicts and various forms of violence.

The declaration was aimed to establish all local private and public schools as neutral grounds in case armed conflicts would occur in any locality within the region.

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” to post 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).”

DepEd records showed that the region has a total of 1,707 pre-schools, 1,692 public elementary and 402 secondary or high schools. (MindaNews)