Troops deployed in Maguindanao town following school bombings

SULTAN MASTURA, Maguindanao — Police and military personnel have been deployed in this town eight days before the national and local elections following a series of bomb attack on seven public elementary schools to be used on election day.

Colonel Earl Badiao, commander of the Army’s 603rd Infantry Brigade, said a company size soldiers from the 37th Infantry Battalion backed by Provincial Public Safety Battalion have been deployed in Sultan Mastura’s 13 villages to ensure next monday’s election would be peaceful and orderly.

Unidentified men fired rifle grenades, lobbed hand grenades and strafed school buildings in seven barangays of Sultan Mastura, a town not included in the Commission on Elections as hot spot areas.

“We are securing the villages, our mandate is to ensure the areas are safe for voters to exercise their rights of surffrage,” Badiao told reporters.

On Wednesday dawn, unidentified armed men fired rifle grenades toward six elementary schools in Sultan Mastura that the poll body will use as voting centers in next month’s national and local elections.

The seventh school subjected to grenade attack at about 10:00 p.m. was Tambo Elementary School in Barangay Tambo. The school building’s ceiling and concrete walls have been destroyed.

As in previous attacks, nobody was hurt in the Tambo Elementary School attack, according to Senior Inspector Wendylyn Banico, chief of the Sultan Mastura municipal police.

Badiao said he has ordered the deployment of more troops as peacekeepers to ensure the election will push through.

Kurais Dali, Sultan Mastura election officer, said no declaration yet as to whether or not the town will be placed under Comelec control.

“Not all schools buildings were bombed, there are still other schools that can be used on election day,” she said.

Senior Insp. Ronald de Leon, speaking for the police in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (PNP-ARMM), said investigation showed that an armed group wanted the town to be under Comelec control so that voting precincts will be clustered.

“The suspects apparently do not trust the teachers because they were identified with the current town administration,” De Leon said. He did not elaborate as police investigation was still on going.

He said the group supports one of the mayoral aspirants.

So far, no group has claimed responsibility for the grenade attacks and strafing. Four candidates are aspiring for the mayoralty post.

Bombed were elementary schools in Barangays Tuka, Dugurungan, Darping, Simuay Seashore, Tariken and Tariken Day Care Center. The latest was in Barangay Tambo.

“The school is clearly apolitical and it should not be destroyed due to politics because it will affect the future of pupils,” Dr. John Magno, ARMM education regional secretary, said even as he condemned the bombings.

He also appealed to all stakeholders in the coming elections to spare the teachers who are only performing their duties as mandated by law.

“I appeal to all parties in this coming election, please spare our teachers from violence,” Magno said.

The town election officer said she will call for a meeting of all candidates to ensure they will not use violence to advance their candidacy.

“We are calling for peace covenant signing,” election officer Dali said. PNA/