ZAMBOANGA CITY – A school commandeered by government soldiers fighting rebels in Zamboanga City had been looted, the school’s American and Filipino owners said.
The owners of the American Career Training Institute, who reported the matter to a local radio network dxRZ, said they were shocked to learn about the looting. They said some P300,000 in cash and equipment and even the vault had been broken.
The school, which has about 300 students, is in Santa Barbara, scene of three weeks of fierce clashes between troops and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels.
The Filipino owner, Norida Patrick, said they reported the matter to the police and military authorities and to Mayor Maria Isabelle Salazar, who sought an investigation into the looting.
“I seek justice to what happened to our school,” the Filipino owner said. “This is not a 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) at first and now the Patrrick’s. We seek justice to the looting done to our school.”
The owners failed to get military clearance last week to enter the school because army officials claimed clearing operation were in progress. They 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) but there were no MNLF in that area,” Patrick said.
Troops entered the school after its security guard allowed them to go to the roofdeck to position snipers.
“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.
He 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.
There was no immediate statement from the military about the accusations, but Philippine Army has detained five soldiers who were accused of looting a house in nearby Barangay Santa Catalina at the height of the fighting.
The soldiers belong to the 9th Infantry Battalion, which is assigned to the Western Mindanao Command.
They were arrested and disarmed after fellow soldiers reported the looting to their commander.
The soldiers allegedly ransacked the house of a local politician and took assorted jewelry and other valuables. They also tried to open a safe left in the house.
The soldiers, whose battalion is under the 9th Infantry Division, were sent here from the Bicol region as reinforcements.
It was not known if the five soldiers were also in the American Career Training Institute.