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Rebel Attack on Philippine School Endangers Students

Armed Islamists, Government Forces Undermine Right to Education

Residents who want to evacuate from their homes gather while waiting for a vehicle after Islamist militants, who had holed up in a primary school, retreated after a gunbattle with troops but were holding some civilians hostage, in Pigcawayan, North Cotabato, Philippines June 21, 2017. © 2017 Reuters/Marconi Navales
On June 21, dozens of armed Islamist rebels stormed and occupied a school on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, the latest in a slew of attacks that highlight the continued risks children face seeking an education in the volatile region.

The rebels, reported by the police to be members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, attacked the school in Pigcawayan town, North Cotabato province and allegedly held several students hostage. The rebels later withdrew and no injuries were reported.

In recent years the various conflicts in Mindanao have placed students and teachers at particular risk. Both Islamist rebels and government security forces with state-backed militias have attacked schools, or have used them as barracks and outposts. This not only puts students and teachers in danger, but also undermines their right to education.

In one particularly egregious case, in September 2015 paramilitary groups identified with the military attacked a tribal school in Surigao del Sur province, killing the school administrator and two tribal leaders on campus.

More recently, fighting in Marawi City between Islamist militants and the military has destroyed several schools, and dozens of teachers and educators remain unaccounted for. There is no evidence to suggest the Pigcawayan attack was directly linked to ongoing fighting in Marawi City.

The Philippine government’s response to the Pigcawayan attack should not place students and school administrators at unnecessary risk. The government should also sign the Safe Schools Declaration, which seeks to protect schools and universities from military use by all sides during armed conflict.

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