MANILA, Philippines – Around 5,000 learners are affected by the clashes between the military and local terrorists in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur, the Department of Education (DepEd) said on Thursday, June 1.
Asked how many learners evacuated from Marawi City, Education Secretary Leonor Briones said "more or less around 5,000 learners."
In fact, in one of the 3 schools in Iligan City, Lanao del Norte, that's being used as an evacuation center, authorities identified around 1,500 children of school age.
"Our projections there is that they won't go back to Marawi anymore. It has happened before that, once they evacuate, they will not necessarily come back," the education secretary explained in a mix of English and Filipino.
She added: "You should assume already that they will be affected until the school opening, that they will still be there until the school season. It's not going to be easy to go back to Marawi. For all we know their homes are already destroyed, for all we know their livelihood is already lost."
DepEd is postponing the June 5 opening of classes in Marawi City and 8 other barangays in the province of Lanao del Sur and in Iligan City in the next province. Briones did not identify the 8 barangays because they are "just projections" of where the fighting could spill over.
The postponement in these areas could last up to two weeks.
Schools as 'zones of peace'
Because of the ongoing clashes – on its 10th day on Thursday – education officials expect reduced number of enrollees in Marawi City, and an influx in Iligan City, Cagayan de Oro City, and nearby cities.
DepEd is now preparing temporary learning shelters to accommodate the additional number of learners in Marawi's neighboring cities. Briones said schools in Iligan City and Cagayan de Oro City would also have to adjust their school hours.
"The classes should start early so that the children could go home early, and they wouldn't have to stay until the afternoon," she explained.
Briones wants affected learners to be integrated "as early as possible."
"We're making all possible adjustments to make it easier to integrate students to our school systems, because, as I said, our basic principle is that we will reach out to all children wherever they are, whoever they are, whatever their parents believe in."
She reiterated DepEd's position that schools are zones of peace and therefore should not be used for negotiations nor should they be used as battlegrounds.
"Schools are neutral places, and especially since children are in schools. So that's our request to those involved in this unrest, that they don't use schools," Briones added.
President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao on May 23, following clashes between the military and the Maute terrorist group in Marawi City. (READ: TIMELINE: Marawi clashes prompt martial law in all of Mindanao)
Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.