Fear over Masbate fighting affects classes of 55,000 students
LEGAZPI CITY — At least 2,815 teachers in 140 schools in Masbate province were forced to shift their classes to modular learning setup due to the series of clashes between government troops and suspected members of the New People’s Army.
Mayflor Marie Jumamil, information officer for the Department of Education (DepEd) in Bicol, said 55,199 students in public schools were affected in the towns of Dimasalang, Placer, Cawayan, Esperanza, Cataingan and Uson. “[Modules] will be distributed to the houses of the learners with the help of the village officials and parents,” Jumamil said in a private chat message on Thursday.
Martin Espayos, information officer of the Schools Division Office of DepEd Masbate, said some of the schools near the encounter areas and even those in remote villages also suspended the in-person classes to ensure the safety of the students and teachers.
“It’s very saddening that the in-person classes are again interrupted, but learning will continue. Classes will be on modular distance learning until the situation becomes normal,” he said in a phone interview on Friday. President Marcos expressed “deep concern” over the incidents of violence in Masbate that had traumatized civilians, particularly school children and their teachers.
“This just demonstrates that although we have made much progress in the fight against the [communist rebels], we must be continuously vigilant so that such murderous abuses are avoided in the future,” he said in a statement on Thursday.
Nene Merioles, Masbate Schools Division superintendent, on Thursday assured parents, especially those in remote areas, that there would be no disruption in learning as students shift to modular distance education scheme.
A parent in Dimasalang, speaking on condition of anonymity for safety reasons, was relieved that in-person classes were suspended, as it would be “too risky” for her young child go to school.
During the first encounter in Barangay Villahermosa in Cawayan town on March 20, shrapnel from a grenade launcher landed in a classroom of Villahermosa National High School, Espayos said.
The March 20 fighting left one soldier dead, identified by the military as Corporal Antonio Parreño Jr. of the Army’s 2nd Infantry Battalion.
Two more separate explosions erupted on Wednesday, leading to clashes in Placer and Dimasalang towns that wounded two soldiers, two police officers and a civilian.
On Friday, videos posted on Facebook have gone viral, showing students crying while cowering in the corners of their classrooms in Villahermosa, as shots rang out during Wednesday’s fighting near their school.
Espayos said students and teachers at the elementary school in Barangay Locso-an in Placer panicked and rushed to classrooms after hearing consecutive gunshots and explosions near their school.
Living in fear
A 10 p.m.-curfew was enforced in Cawayan, Dimasalang and Placer towns starting on Wednesday following the fighting.“I am thankful that a curfew is being implemented. Asking residents to present identification cards at the checkpoints promotes a secure environment for all,” a Cawayan resident told the Inquirer on Friday.
“We can hear people walking outside in the middle of the night, and though we don’t know who they are, the barking of dogs indicates that they are just outside,” a resident from Placer said.
When asked how he would ensure the safety of his family, he said, “I gather my children at 6 p.m. to bring them into the house as it can be risky to be outside due to the possibility of another armed encounter.”
Drivers of public utility vehicles in the province’s third district said fewer people travel to and from the affected towns following the armed encounters out of fear for their safety.
—with a report from Dexter Cabalza
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