The Department of Education (DepEd) reminded its regional units on Monday, November 15, to strictly enforce its policy of keeping schools as “zones of peace” after armed police officers were seen in a classroom in Pangasinan where limited face-to-face classes was held for the first time.
In a statement, the DepEd said that the police officers seen in Longos Elementary School in Alaminos City were part of the security detail of a local government official, whom it didn’t name.
Netizens called the attention of DepEd for supposedly letting uniformed personnel inside school premises.
Rappler was at Longos Elementary School when the incident happened as it was covering the start of limited face-to-face classes there. The police officers were seen interacting with Alaminos City Mayor Arth Bryan Celeste and other volunteers, who graced the event.
However, in a Facebook post after the issue caught the attention of netizens, Celeste denied the cops were part of his security detail. He said an official of the school requested for the cops to secure VIPs in attendance.
The cops, he said, were part of the “security team requested by a school official of Longos Elementary School to provide security for members and officials of the PCOO, the media, the DepEd, and other VIP to ensure the safety and well-being of our students, teachers, parents and stakeholders.”
The mayor included in his post the letter of request sent by Longos Elementary School Head Teacher 1 Fremilyn Rabago to Alaminos police chief Lt. Col. Leonard Paredes.
The uniformed officers assisted teachers in making sure that health protocols were observed.
Other sectors of the community were also present in the event to show support for Longos Elementary School, which was the only school in Pangasinan approved for in-person classes. They also handed school materials to students.
“To prevent similar incidents in the future, we are reminding our field officials and school heads to strictly enforce our National Policy Framework on Learners and Schools as Zones of Peace,” the DepEd said.
The policy states that “schools, as a general rule, should be free from the presence of armed combatants, whether they be from government forces or armed groups. Armed force protection units from government forces, if needed, shall be situated proximate to the school and not inside the school.”
After almost two years of school closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Philippines began limited face-to-face classes in select areas on Monday.
Some 100 public schools joined the pilot run, which will run for two months, as approved by President Rodrigo Duterte. Meanwhile, 30 private schools will start limited in-person classes a week later, on November 22.
The Philippines is the last country in the world to reopen schools for in-person classes since the World Health Organization declared a pandemic in March 2020. On October 25, Venezuela reopened schools after a long closure.
The government’s pandemic response had been assailed, with critics saying that the school closure in the country reflected misplaced priorities and failed management of the health crisis. – Rappler.com
An earlier version of this report identified the cops as part of Mayor Celeste’s security detail. They were not, based not only on the local chief executive’s statement but on the followup information we gathered from our own sources. We regret the error.