HUNDREDS of Filipino children were barred from attending class when schools opened this week.
The reason? The children have been living in shelters in Zamboanga City since their families fled fighting in the southern Philippines, and the Zamboanga City government failed to submit their school records and other requisite personal data to the Department of Education. It’s not clear if or when these kids will be able to attend school.
This bureaucratic snafu is emblematic of how the government has failed the displaced people living in Zamboanga.
Many of these kids live in the Masepla “transitory site,” which as of January 2015 housed 1,399 families who had fled the fighting between the Philippine military and a faction of the rebel Moro National Liberation Front in 2013. That fighting killed nearly 200 people including children, and displaced an estimated 120,000 residents – mostly Muslims and people belonging to the indigenous group Badjao. The conflict also forced 170 schools to close, although most of them have since reopened.
But the plight of the displaced school kids underscores how the government falls short in meeting the basic needs of its displaced people. These failures have prompted many displaced families to leave Zamboanga and move to other cities where they join the ranks of the impoverished, their children reduced to begging, often provoking local backlash.
This is also an example of the Philippines’ “education deficit” – the difference between the education children receive and what the government has promised. Around the world, armed conflict is a major contributor to education deficit. In many countries including the Philippines, soldiers take over schools for military purposes. Human Rights Watch has urged the Philippine government to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration and take measures to end the military use of schools, which happened in Zamboanga City during the 2013 fighting. Fifty-four countries have already endorsed the Declaration.
The Philippine government should immediately address the educational needs of Zamboanga’s displaced children. The government should remove any bureaucratic obstacles that keep these kids from getting to class. The children of Zamboanga have suffered enough. They should not also have to endure being deprived of an education. # (By Carlos H. Conde, HRW Philippine researcher. Photos by HRW.)