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Military closes tribal school

MANILA (UCAN) : The Father Fausto Tentorio Memorial School for tribal children, named after the Italian priest who was murdered in the province of Bukidnon in the southern Philippines in 2011, was closed on October 23 when the Armed Forces of The Philippines accused it of being a threat to the people.

“They brought crowbars and bolos (large knives) and some of our students said they also saw some of the men bringing bows and arrows,” Junance Magbanua, from the Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation Inc., a Church-based institution that operates the school, said.

Magbanua described the incident saying that it happened at around noon, while the students and teachers at the school were having their lunch break.

Some 20 students and their teachers immediately fled the area out of fear.

The school was named after the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions priest, Father Tentorio.

He was gunned down in the church compound at close quarters by suspected members of a militia group.

“A state of impunity is now running amuck in Mindanao and we have yet to see any concrete action from the government,” Carlos Isagani Zarate, a congress member from the Nation First Party, said on the floor of the congress.

Zarate, who comes from Mindanao, claimed the closure of the school was the work of a group of men led by the village chairperson, Felipe Cabugnason, with the help of regular soldiers.

The military denied having a hand in the shutting down of the school.

Military officials said the school was being permanently closed, because it has no permit to operate and is a threat to the safety of the people living in the village.

The school used to have 55 students from grades seven to eight, mostly from the Pulangiyon and Matigasalog tribal people in the province.

The Save Our Schools Network, an alliance of organisations working for the education of tribal children, condemned the forced closure and destruction of the gate of the school.

The group said armed men, believed to be soldiers, forced people at gunpoint to damage the school to make it appear the demolition was voluntarily done by villagers.

The network said in a statement the school building was partially damaged and was padlocked. 

The group reported that the men also confiscated the mobile phones and cameras of teachers and students.

Military-backed militias have been blamed for the murder of tribal leaders opposed to mining operations in the region.

Rights advocates have implicated the paramilitary group, Bagani Force, for the murder of Father Tentorio.