COTABATO CITY, Philippines – A significant drop in class attendance due to a series of gun violence prompted the education department to consider a return to remote learning instructions in tension-gripped Pikit town in Cotabato province.
Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte on Monday, February 27, ordered classes to be held online in the distressed town.
Duterte personally visited the Pikit National High School (PNHS) where a 65% drop in class attendance was reported due to the fear of several students to attend classes after the shooting of school children on February 14.
The incident resulted in the death of Fahad Dianalan Guintawan, a 13-year-old Grade 7 student and a resident of Sitio Tambak Barangay Gli-gli, while two of his companions were wounded.
The bloody attack took place just outside the school while the children were walking.
Two days later, a 15-year-old high school student was shot and killed by unidentified assailants on February 16 in another village in the same town.
Justine Ababon, a resident of Barangay Fort Pikit and a 9th grader at Notre Dame of Pikit, was attending to his family’s store when he was targeted and shot in the chest.
The local government had suspended classes in the town following the first incident, and Ababon was helping his parents at their store during the suspension.
Duterte called for an investigation into the incidents and urged local authorities to take action to prevent further violence in the town.
She met with local school officials to address security concerns in Pikit.
During a closed-door meeting with PNHS principal Abdulkadir Buda and Education Undersecretary Revsee Escobedo, Duterte tasked school officials with implementing the Alternative Delivery Mode (ADM) or remote learning instructions for children who were still afraid to attend classes.
“The safety and well-being of our children must always come first. We need to find ways to ensure that all children can continue to learn, even if they have to do so from home,” Duterte said
Authorities said the killings were likely linked to a long-standing feud between warring groups in the town.
The police said they were conducting an investigation to identify and arrest the perpetrators.
Pikit Mayor Sumulong Sultan condemned the violent incidents and urged residents to remain vigilant and cooperative with the authorities to help prevent further tragedies.
“The loss of young lives in our community is unacceptable, and we will do everything in our power to bring the perpetrators to justice,” Sultan said.
The recent killings have sparked concerns about the safety of children in the town, and local officials have called for increased police presence and security measures to prevent further violence.
The families of the victims also appealed for justice and urged authorities to take swift action to stop the cycle of violence that has claimed the lives of innocent people, including children..
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has expressed concern over the violence against children in Pikit, and reminded the government about the Philippines’ legal obligation to protect the rights of children under international law.
Duterte also introduced the PagbaBaGo program, an advocacy campaign that focuses on the importance of education in breaking the cycle of poverty and underscoring the significance of responsible parenthood to ensure that children’s basic needs, such as education, are met.
Violence, however, continued to plague the Pikit despite the government’s efforts to increase security measures.
Just hours after Duterte left Pikit, another attack happened in Poblacion Pikit, where an elderly man cheated death because the gunman’s firearm jammed.
Clashes between warring groups have also been reported in the town, with one person killed and another wounded two days before Duterte’s visit.
The government has augmented police and military troops in the area to help maintain peace and order, but the situation remains tense, and residents fear for their safety. – Rappler.com
Ferdinandh Cabrera is an Aries Rufo Journalism fellow.
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