COTABATO CITY, Philippines – A shooting incident in Pikit, Cotabato province has once again shocked the town, leaving school children as the victims of the violence.
The attack sent shockwaves throughout the community and prompted the local government to call off classes for a few days.
The incident also highlighted the need for the local government to address the underlying issues that have been fueling the violence in Pikit.
Pikit National High School 7th grader and 13-year-old Fahad Dianalan Guintawan was among the fatalities in the shooting that was carried out in the town center at around 2 pm on Tuesday, February 14.
Two other students, Jinwar, 12, and another 11-year-old, were wounded in the attack.
Police said the students were walking outside their school when the gun attack was carried out by a still unidentified group.
The killing has caused widespread panic in the town, and many residents have taken to social media to express their anger and frustration.
They said the safety and well-being of the town’s residents, especially its children, must be the top priority of the authorities, and they must act swiftly to restore peace and stability to the area.
“They don’t have conscience. The victims were so young. Enough of the violence in Pikit. The local government must act now,” said resident Emna Sambutuan.
The situation in Pikit has been deteriorating for some time, with dozens of shooting incidents recorded in recent months.
The town has been plagued by a range of conflicts, including a long-standing rido or clan war between rival groups, armed groups, and local political rivalries.
The violence in Pikit peaked before the 2022 elections, and it has not abated since then.
Heavy gunfires were heard in the downtown area the night before the shooting incident, as clashes near the villages of Calawag and Balong were happening. A security guard was killed a day before the gun attack on the young students.
But what is particularly alarming now is that even school children were not spared in the spread of violence. Many residents condemned the attack and said the incident was unacceptable.
As a response, the local government issued an executive order suspending all levels of classes starting Wednesday until Friday, February 15 to 17, after the shooting of the school children.
The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) earlier instructed security sectors to prioritize peace and stability in Pikit town and other Special Geographic Areas (SGA) in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
The town of Pikit is a politically complicated area, having been divided between the territories of the Bangsamoro and Soccsksargen regions as a result of a plebiscite conducted for inclusion or exclusion in the new Muslim-majority entity.
While the town is part of the non-Bangsamoro province of Cotabato in the Soccsksargen region, its residents voted to become a BARMM special area.
Residents of Pikit have expressed their concern and fear over the escalating violence in the town, and many called for immediate action from the government.
There were those who said they were considering fleeing the town altogether.
“We are thinking of leaving Pikit now,” said Anna Maguid, a resident of the town.
“We are hopeful they can solve this long-agonizing problem we have in Pikit,” according to another, Alex Palao.
They said local authorities must take the shooting of the young students as a wake-up call to take swift and decisive action to restore peace and order in Pikit.
They also said the people of the town deserve to live in a safe and secure environment, and it was the government’s responsibility to ensure that their basic right to security is protected. – Rappler.com
Ferdinandh Cabrera is an Aries Rufo Journalism fellow.
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