MARAWI CITY, June 2, 2018 – “We are hoping and looking forward to the return of the Marawi children from all over the country.”

Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Leonor Magtolis Briones enthusiastically relayed this during her keynote address at the Brigada Eskwela sa Marawi (BESM) closing and Oplan Balik Eskwela sa Marawi (OBESM) opening ceremonies held at Amai Pakpak Central Elementary School (APCES) on May 23, exactly a year after the siege which devastated the City.

As part of its pledge to restore normalcy in the lives of learners, DepEd assured that Marawi City will open classes on June 4, together with the rest of the country.

Briones called to remembrance the Department’s decision in 2017 to admit all Marawi children, “wherever region, city, or province they go” and “with or without documentation.” While DepEd is anticipating the return of those who were accepted in schools from all over the country, the Secretary clarified that such is not the case for all the displaced learners.

“Of course, we will understand if some of them decide to stay where they are now because, perhaps, their parents have found means of livelihood, and they want also to finish and complete their studies kasi naka-settle down na sila. And we will understand that,” Briones explained.

New Marawi City 
On the same day, the Education chief, together with officials and members of DepEd, visited ground zero for the first time. While she described the scene as “heart-wrenching” during the press briefing following the ceremonies at APCES, Briones emphasized that there is hope and life even in the midst of death and destruction.

“We’re creating a new Marawi City, together with the citizens of Marawi – a Marawi City not for us or those who are so used to violence, who have been exposed to so much greed, to so much corruption, to so much dirt, but for the sake of our learners who are standing by their education, especially the Kindergarten children who will come in in June.”

She called on everyone to continue their support and commitment even after and beyond Brigada Eskwela and Oplan Balik Eskwela.

“Our role is to see to it that our learners, our children, have a feeling of normalcy, that in spite of bombs, in spite of screams and in spite of bloodletting, education must go on, education must continue, and our learners should not be deprived of that opportunity. This is exactly what we did,” Briones shared.

Heartfelt gratitude 
DepEd Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Service (DRRMS) Director Ronilda Co expressed the Department’s gratitude to all officials and members of the DepEd family, as well as the stakeholders who trooped to Marawi City not only during the May 23 ceremonies, but most especially during the three batches of Brigada Eskwela.

Co further shared that the Department has already distributed more than 23,000 learners’ kits, 1,200 teachers’ kits, and 12,000 hygiene kits. She added that psychological first aid has also been administered to thousands of learners, teachers, and other DepEd personnel affected by the conflict. A total of 35 Temporary Learning Spaces have already been installed, and a school feeding program is ongoing for more than 16,000 children.

“We have 15 open schools since September, 2017, and more are opening outside ground zero. There are 49 schools outside ground zero,” Co further relayed.

All the said schools outside the most affected area were visited by Regional and Division DRRM coordinators, Schools Division Superintendents, and other officials and personnel from all over the country on May 22. They stood witness to how the schools were rehabilitated after the twinning and pairing system implemented under the BESM.

The Secretary also acknowledged the Regional officials and other partners who adopted the Marawi schools and helped the City get back on its feet.

“This is now the time for our regional directors to check on the status of the schools in Marawi which they adopted. Because last year, they came with truckloads of goods, of services, and so on, all the way from all parts of the Philippines. And now they are back here to see and to ask what more they can do,” she mentioned.

Challenges ahead 
The Secretary underscored that more than enrollment, the challenge for the Department is to see to it that the learners are provided with good learning environment, supplies, furniture, equipment, and teachers, which she described as “a debt we owe to our learners.”

“And because of this, we are working together so that we, in Marawi, will not only pick up the shards, the remains, the ruins of our schools, but also catch up with the rest of the country, catch up with the rest of Mindanao, in so far as facilities and service to our learners is concerned,” she added.

Also present in the May 23 ceremonies were DepEd Undersecretary Alain Del B.  Pascua, Undersecretary Tonisito M. C. Umali, Assistant Secretary G.H. S. Ambat, DepEd ARMM Secretary Rasol Mitmug Jr. and Assistant Secretaries Alfhadar Pajiji and Marjunni Maddi, Director for International Cooperation Office Margarita Ballesteros, and all the regional directors of the Department.

The Secretary capped off the day’s activities with a visit to Sagonsongan Temporary Learning Spaces where she met some of the learners from the most affected area, which further strengthened her resolve that education will continue and that the scheduled opening of classes will continue wherever the children are.

“We want a Marawi which our learners will not leave and evacuate from, and all of us have a role in seeing to it that this happens not for ourselves, but for our learners,” she concluded.