MANILA, Philippines – Education Secretary Leonor Briones said the start of classes on Monday, June 5, will bring a "sense of normalcy" in Mindanao, where President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law because of the conflict in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur.
"We will start classes so that the sense of normalcy, a process of stabilization, will be there. I would like to urge parents and to assure them that things will be as they are and are going on as they are," Briones said in Rappler Talk interview this week.
Public elementary and high schools nationwide will open their doors to 22.89 million students on Monday.
For schools in Marawi City and 8 other districts in Lanao del Sur, classes have been postponed for two weeks, at most.
Briones said it's important to tell children, who can "sense fear and insecurity," that it's "business as usual" for most of Mindanao even after the declaration of martial law
"I have been to Cagayan de Oro and other parts of Mindanao. It is really business as usual, except that the checkpoints are very long and very tedious when you enter Cagayan de Oro, when you enter Iligan. But once you are inside, it's business as usual. People carry on with their lives. If one is not involved with the conflict, then one is not really... unless you are collateral damage, as in the case of Marawi," she explained.
She urged Filipinos, especially those in Luzon and the Visayas – regions not covered by martial law – to "go on with our lives."
"We cannot spend our time getting nervous, and scared, and speculating what will happen to us and to our children, and guessing that martial law will soon be declared wherever we are. We go on with our lives. This what we are doing in education," she explained.
"This is not to say that we can be blasé about Marawi; it's a serious, terrible thing. But life has to go on, and we are responsible for 27 million children. We cannot say, 'Let's pause muna (first), let's rest muna (first). O kayo, 27 million kayo, wala muna (You learners, you're 27 million, don't go to school first) because we have to resolve this issue first.' No."
The education department estimated that around 5,000 learners are affected by the clashes between the military and the Maute terrorist group in Marawi City.
Briones said government troops are aware that they should not "carry war into the schoolrooms."
"And schools don't take sides at all, as far as the children and teachers are concerned. And we've had earlier debates of this, even before the Marawi crisis. And we always emphasize this, and teachers always insist, if there are military people or other kinds of armed groups who endeavor to enter schools, they are always requested politely to please stay off and keep the schools peaceful," she explained.
Should there be violations of the principle that schools are zones of peace, Briones said they can immediately inform the police and the military, who they are in touch with.
She also pleaded with "the other side" not to drag children into "this very violent and difficult conflict."
"Schools should not be made as battlegrounds between and among contending parties engaged in violence, with or without martial law," Briones added.
Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao on May 23, following clashes between the military and the Maute 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.