Police are investigating reports of looting at the American Career Training Institute in Zamboanga City in southern Philippines where security forces used the school in attacking separatist rebels.
School owners Michael and Norida Patrick claimed some P300,000 in cash and equipment were lost in the looting. The school, which has about 300 students, is in the village of Santa Barbara, scene of three weeks of fierce clashes between troops and Moro National Liberation Front rebels.
The couple reported the matter to a local radio network dxRZ Radyo Agong and said they were shocked to learn about the looting.
Norida Patrick said they reported the theft to the police and military authorities and to Mayor Maria Isabelle Salazar of Zamboanga, who sought an investigation into the looting.
“I seek justice to what happened to our school,” the Filipino owner said. “This is not good news to American Citizen Services of the US Embassy in Manila as they protect all US citizens in Zamboanga, yet this is what happened to us [and]the West [couple who were held hostage by rebels]at first and now the Patrick’s. We seek justice to the looting done to our school.”
Chief Inspector Ariel Huesca, a regional police spokesman, said an investigation into the looting is going on. “There is an investigation and we urged the school owners to provide us with necessary evidence so we can file charges against those who are being accused. They should formalize their complaints,” he told The Manila Times.
Norida said they tried, but failed to get a military clearance last week to enter the school because army officials claimed that there is an ongoing clearing operation in the area and only discovered the looting on Saturday morning.
“When we went there this morning thinking there are military in our building we thought we are safe. Unfortunately, they ransacked our office and our assessment center. [It is] impossible [for the]MNLF [rebels to loot the school]because our place has been cordoned [off]by military since our school is the next building before the Metrodiscom [police camp], beside Southern [City Colleges] eh wala naman MNLF in that area,” she said.
She said troops managed to enter the school after their security guard allowed them to go at the rooftop where military snipers positioned themselves to take rebel targets.
“Our security guard even allowed the military to get at the roof deck for their tactical operations para maka-snipe. Tapos ninakawan pa kami ng 2 computers, LCD projector, P70,000 in cash, cash vault had been broken. Flat screen TV, very worst talaga,” Norida said.
“We will seek justice. We thought [the]military should be our protectors, but sad to say, with what happened to us, I begin to question and doubt their intentions. I don’t want to point fingers, but what the military did to our school was not right.”
Patrick said they have not been given any clearance by the military to enter the school building, but is ready to hold classes as soon as they are cleared to resume operations. “Despite the recent ransacking of the school, classrooms are okay and we can hold class once given the clearance,” she said. AL JACINTO