PASIG CITY, August 15, 2017 – Cognizant of the State’s responsibility to maintain the neutrality of schools as zones of peace, and to protect learners, teachers, personnel, and community members from attack by state and non-state armed groups, the Department of Education (DepEd) fully accepts and strongly endorses the Safe Schools Declaration.
Education Secretary Leonor Magtolis Briones has expressed, on several occasions, her commitment to make the Philippines a signatory of the inter-government commitment as soon as possible. The urgency of this endeavor is further highlighted by the ongoing armed conflict in Marawi and other parts of the country.
“Whatever is happening in the country, whatever challenges we are facing, education must continue. . . Education cannot wait, our learners cannot wait. We continue with the process so we can give hope and continuity, and contribute to the normalization of activities in the country,” Briones stated during the High-Level Social Development Goals Action Event on Education at the UN Headquarters in New York last June 28.
On June 4, days after the Marawi siege erupted and firefights near schools in Mankayan, Benguet ensued, DepEd reiterated the necessity of adhering to Department Order 44, series of 2005, or the Declaration of Schools as Zones of Peace. This was backed by a nationwide awareness campaign wherein all schools were instructed to post the official tarpaulin declaring these institutions as Zones of Peace.
“Worldwide, schools are universally treated as neutral zones despite being in the middle of areas of intense armed conflict and are free from the presence of armed combatants, regardless of what side they are from. It is imperative that this point be stressed, and that our schools be accorded the same respect – that schools are places of learning, caring, and nurturing. A true second home for our students,” the Education chief emphasized.
Earlier in March at the 2nd International Conference on Safe Schools in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Undersecretary for Administration Alain Pascua conveyed DepEd’s strong advocacy of declaring schools as zones of peace and its desire to push for the Philippine government’s signing of the Declaration.
On July 18, at the Inter-Agency Meeting to Discuss the Philippine Position on the Safe Schools Declaration, DepEd secured the commitment of the Department of National Defense (DND), the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and the Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC) to support the education agency’s advocacy to protect schools and children from armed conflict. Pascua as well informed the group of the initiative to include the declaration of schools as zones of peace in the government’s peace agenda to encourage the commitment of all non-state armed groups.
The Secretary has also addressed letters, dated July 21, to Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza and Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano informing both of DepEd’s initiative and commitment for safe schools. The letters expressed the Department’s preparation of a Joint Agreement on Safe Schools Declaring Schools, Learners, Teachers, and Community Members as Zones of Peace and Places of Neutrality, and endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration.
Through the Joint Agreement, the Philippine government and non-state armed groups presently negotiating with the Peace Panel will mutually agree to the following:
- Establishment of schools as zones of peace by including it as part of the peace agenda, securing commitment of all parties to isolate the educational system from its impact and adverse effects;
- Recognition of all schools nationwide as places of neutrality that should never be considered as targets of any armed action;
- Non-recruitment of learners, teachers, and other personnel as combatants or support personnel, and should not be enlisted for any activity related to the armed conflict;
- Ensuring that schools and other educational facilities are free from the presence of armed combatants, whether from the government or from other contending forces;
- Isolation of schools from any clan wars and targets of propaganda and other psychological operations of any side of the armed conflict;
- Presence of a resilient educational system capable of withstanding the negative effects of armed conflicts, through the establishment of measures to reduce to the minimum the disruptions in the conduct of classes.
“By joining the Safe Schools Declaration, states commit to undertake several common-sense steps to make it less likely that students, teachers, schools, and universities will be attacked, and to mitigate the negative consequences when such attacks occur. . . DepEd and the entire government must ensure that education will continue despite the incidents of unrest. Education cannot wait, the Filipino learners cannot wait, education must continue,” Briones underscored.