By JIGGER J. JERUSALEM
SECURITY has been tightened around a public school in a remote village in Valencia City, Bukidnon, following the shooting of a teacher in Sitio Dalit, Barangay Lumbayao last week.
Dr. Victoria Gazo, Valencia schools division superintendent, said village leaders have committed to assign Civilian Volunteers Organization (CVOs) and zone leaders to serve as security officers at Dalit Elementary School during schools hours.
She said the presence of militiamen would help in deterring possible attack on Dalit’s school teachers like what happened to Zhydee Cabañelez, who was shot inside her classroom on Oct. 15.
Cabañelez and her husband Ramil are both teachers at Dalit Elementary School. Four armed men barged into a classroom and started shooting at them last Wednesday.
While Ramil was unharmed, his wife sustained gunshot wounds. She is now recovering at a medical facility in Valencia.
“During coordination meeting, I requested barangay officials to help in resolving issues on some teachers’ reluctance to continue serving in the school because of fear after the shooting incident,” Gazo was quoted as saying in a Philippine Information Agency news report Tuesday.
She said if teachers would no longer serve at Dalit Elementary School, parents would be forced to send their children to the nearest school in Lumbayao.
“If this happens, it would be very risky for the children to commute due to the rolling terrain and the pupil’s daily crossing in Pulangui River,” Gazo added.
In an interview with Bukidnon media recently, Cabañelez denied she has links with the progressive group Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT).
In a video clip showing her being interviewed, Cabañelez strongly denied she is an ACT member, contrary to the claim made by the group that the teacher was one of its own.
Cabañelez said she was invited by ACT to attend a forum in Valencia sometime in 2016, but they were not informed that their attendance would constitute membership with the teachers’ organization.
Meanwhile, the Department of Education condemned the shooting of Cabañelez as Education Secretary Leonor Briones called on authorities to conduct an exhaustive investigation into the incident.
“Deped sternly enjoins the community, local officials, and law enforcement agencies to work closely in ensuring the safety schools, learners, and teachers,” the agency said in a statement posted on its Facebook page on Monday.
Alberto Escobarte, Deped assistant secretary for legal affairs, said the agency has extended financial assistance to Cabañelez.
He said there could be higher penalties against the perpetrators since the direct assault was committed against persons in authority on official duty.
This came even as the National Police and the ACT lashed out at each other over the shooting of the teachers.
According to Lt. Col. Surki Sereñas, Valencia police chief, Cabañelez’s father is reportedly a member of the New People’s Army (NPA) tasked with collecting revolutionary taxes to quarry operators in the area.
ACT, for its part, said that Cabañelez is a member of the organization, a claim disputed by Sereñas.
“The Association of Concerned Tearchers or ACT is falsely claiming that the victims are their members to paint a picture that there exists repressive measures against teachers. The truth is both victims are not in any manner connected to ACT,” Sereñas said.
He said the victims are “loyal to the government and are exemplary teachers who have bright future ahead of them.”
Sereñas noted the wife is a national awardee as a multi-grade teacher, while Ramil is doing well as school administrator after having been designated teacher-in-charge of said school, adding that the school head of Lumbayao has even recommended them to be promoted to master teachers.
“There is no way that they would affiliate with left-leaning organization and criticize the government,” he said.
“Their claims are meant to cover up for their (NPA) barbaric acts. The truth is, the police are looking at the fact that the attack on the couple is a backlash of their loyalty to the government and the ‘surrender,’ not to mention the victim’s father, Zaldy Bitago, to the [Armed Forces of the Philippines],” Sereñas added.
In a separate statement, ACT criticized the PNP for its “inconsistent” report on the attempt on Cabañelez’s life.
“PNP initially reported that Cabañelez is the daughter of an NPA leader in the region, but police narrative has since shifted to NPA being responsible for the shooting incident,” ACT secretary general Raymond Basilio said.
Instead of launching a thorough investigation into the attack, Basilio said, “the PNP has opted to hastily pin it on the NPA however they can, thereby raising serious doubts on the sincerity and credibility of the police to serve justice to [Cabañelez].”
In order to avoid similar incidents from occurring, Basilio said ACT is urging the Deped to take measures to improve security in schools by employing civilian security personnel.
“Deped must create items for school security personnel whose main duty is to keep teachers and students safe while at school. Schools must remain to be safe, democratic spaces and zones of peace,” he said.