Quote for the Week..

"Why are the country’s political leaders quick to act on amending the Constitution to change nationalistic provisions for the benefit of foreigners or to extend their terms of office but are allergic to amending the Constitution to address the people’s aspirations for self-determination?" - Marvic Leonen,Dean of the UP College of Law, in a keynote address delivered at the 1st International Solidarity Conference on Mindanao; March 16-18, 2009 in Davao City, Philippines.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

3 more teachers seized in Zamboanga

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Armed men kidnapped three female public school teachers off the coastal town of Naga in Zamboanga Sibugay Friday, authorities said.

The kidnapping came a month after three other teachers were kidnapped by suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits in Basilan.

Senior Superintendent Pederico Castro, Zamboanga Sibugay provincial police director, said policemen figured in a brief gun battle with an armed group believed to be responsible for the kidnapping.

There were no immediate reports of casualties or injuries in the encounter.

Authorities believe that the three teachers – initially identified as Noemi Navales Mandi, Jocelyn Enriquez and Jocelyn Inion, all of the Bangkaw-Bangkaw Elementary School – were brought to Basilan by their kidnappers.

The teachers were on board a motorized banca with a male operator when four gunmen on board another pumpboat chased them.

Castro said the banca operator tried to outrun the kidnappers but failed. He then jumped and swam away, leaving the teachers in the banca.

The gunmen then forced the teachers into their pumpboat and sped away.

Castro said another teacher, a Muslim, was not taken by the kidnappers. The teacher paddled the boat and picked up the banca operator along the way before going ashore to report the incident.

Authorities have no immediate suspects and no group has claimed responsibility for the abduction.

Education Secretary Jesli Lapus condemned the kidnapping, the second in less than two months.

“We condemn all forms and acts of violence and harassment inflicted on hapless teachers. They perform a noble role in nation-building and are indispensable instruments for lasting peace and prosperity,” he said.

Lapus said young school-aged children would be the ultimate victims of the kidnapping of teachers.

“We appeal for justice for the teacher-victims and ask lawless elements to spare our schools, our teachers and our children,” he said.

Lapus urged local officials to implement measures to protect public school teachers from being kidnapped.

“The community should protect our teachers, otherwise our teachers would be afraid to go out and do their duties,” he said.

Lapus said the spate of kidnappings has forced several public school teachers to refuse deployment in remote areas in Zamboanga and other provinces in Mindanao.

In certain areas in Mindanao, particularly in Zamboanga, he said teachers have started to ask for reassignment to other areas due to fear for their safety.

“In some schools (in Zamboanga), policemen have assumed the role of teachers since there are no teachers anymore,” Lapus said.

Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro also called on local government units to implement the barangay defense system to protect public school teachers in their villages.

“This recent kidnapping only showed that there is indeed a need for all local government officials to strengthen their barangay-based defense system,” he said.

Teodoro said the kidnapping at Zamboanga Sibugay came at a time when the police and military have succeeded in addressing the menace in nearby Zamboanga City.

“Our troops could not be in different places at one time. We were able to prevent kidnappings in Zamboanga City, then the kidnappers struck in Zamboanga Sibugay,” he said.

Teodoro said local officials could no longer afford to take it easy when it comes to securing their respective communities.

He cited intelligence reports that the kidnappers have brought their three hostages to Basilan.

He said government security forces are now verifying reports that the kidnappers were Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) guerrillas.(By Roel Pareño)

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