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Classes in some Zamboanga schools to resume tomorrow

MANILA, Philippines - Classes will resume tomorrow in some schools affected by the armed conflict between government troops and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) forces in Zamboanga City, the Department of Education (DepEd) announced yesterday.

DepEd assistant secretary Rey Laguda also said that DepEd personnel yesterday conducted stress debriefing for teachers and school heads in conflict-affected areas in preparation for the reopening of classes.

But he could not say as of press time the total number of schools that would resume classes.

Last week, Education Secretary Armin Luistro said 167 of the 205 public schools in Zambonga City may resume classes based on the department’s assessment.

Luistro also said regular lessons would not be required on the first day and teachers should assess whether the students still need counseling.

Classes in Zamboanga City have been suspended since Sept. 9 when the standoff between soldiers and MNLF forces started. DepEd requires 180 teaching days in a school year.

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Meanwhile, the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) announced the resetting of the Board Licensure Examination for Professional Teachers (BLEPT) in Zamboanga City, Tawi-Tawi and Jolo, Sulu from Sept. 29 to Jan. 26, 2014.

The PRC postponed the BLEPT due to security and safety concerns of the examinees and the limited access to air and sea transportation due to the ongoing hostilities.

DOLE to preserve jobs in Zamboanga

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), on the other hand, is now working on programs that will preserve livelihood and employment in Zamboanga.

Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz said she ordered the DOLE regional office in Western Mindanao to convene the Industry Tripartite Councils of affected industries and to ready measures on employment preservation.

“We have to prioritize existing livelihoods that need to be rehabilitated, but if it is emergency employment that is needed, we will provide this,” Baldoz added.

The labor chief also said the DOLE is fast-tracking the delivery of livelihood and other assistance to victims of the armed conflict.

The DOLE regional office is already profiling and monitoring workers in the formal and informal sectors who were affected by the crisis so that DOLE can carry out appropriate intervention.

Baldoz said the result of the profiling is expected to provide complete information as to what extent the workers have been affected and what immediate post-conflict recovery programs and interventions are needed.

Baldoz also said that P4 million is available under the Bottom-Up Budgeting Program earmarked for Zamboanga City that can be utilized for emergency employment.

The fund is enough to provide emergency employment to 1,300 displaced workers for at least 15 days.

The DOLE will screen and select the beneficiaries from the list of displaced persons prepared by the City Social Welfare and Development Office and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

DSWD merges evacuation centers

Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said yesterday that the DSWD has reduced the number of evacuation centers from 57 to 35 by merging evacuation centers with small numbers of evacuees.

DSWD said 18,112 families or 99,753 individuals are taking shelter in the 35 evacuation centers, while 4,352 families or 15,814 individuals are staying in their homes or in the houses of their relatives or friends.

DSWD said that with the reduced number of evacuation centers, the logistical challenge of distributing relief assistance was eased.

As of press time, the DSWD has allocated P74,898,048 for food and non-food items and financial assistance for affected families.

‘Rehabilitation not easy’

Zamboanga City Rep. Celso Lobregat said the rehabilitation of the city would not be easy and would take a long time as the armed conflict caused severe damage.

“Our city is pitiful, it brings me to tears,” Lobregat told reporters at the House of Representatives.

Lobregat was in his district last week but flew to Manila to sponsor the proposed 2014 budget of the Department of Energy.

He thanked the national government for giving P3.8 billion to fund the rehabilitation of the city but lamented that the situation is still far from stabilized.

He said that while the conflict affected only six barangays, the city is larger than Metro Manila and it has porous coastlines that allow the entry and exit of suspected MNLF gunmen.

Lobregat also said he believes that MNLF founding chairman Nur Misuari felt he was excluded in the peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

But Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles said Misuari’s accountability for his actions is “non-negotiable.”

She reiterated that the government and the MNLF were supposed to meet in Indonesia last Sept. 16 but it did not push through because of the clashes.

“The people, especially the people in Zamboanga, want accountability. We cannot just allow this to go unpunished,” Deles told reporters before her agency’s budget deliberations at the House.

She also said the Aquino administration impressed upon the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, of which the MNLF has observer status, that “the rule of law is important” to the government. – With Mayen Jaymalin, Rainier Allan Ronda, Paolo Romero

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