Cotabato City – “As of now, there are a total of 551 school dropouts since August 10 but we are not saying they actually died in the encounters. They might have transferred residence but surely one of the reasons is they were actually recruited by MILF rogue commander Umbra Kato.”

This is was the statement of Police Chief Supt. Felicismo Khu, deputy director for administration, PRO 12 and commander of Task Force PALMA-P (Pigkawayan, Alamada, Libungan, Midsayap, Aleosan and Pikit municipalities in North Cotabato affected by the armed conflict) on the question of school drop outs.

Khu, 602nd brigade commander Alejandro Estomo, PNP Cotabato Director/PSSupt Lester Camba, TF PALMA-P PNP Tactical Batallion Commander PSupt. Jose Chiquito Malayo and PRO 12 Investigation Division Chief PSupt. Marcelo Pintac were guests in the press conference of the Kidapwan City information command center and the Philippine Information Agency held at the Jayag Pension House, Kidapawan City.

Kato, according to the PRO 12 deputy director for administration, promised the parents of the youth he recruited parcel of land once the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) is signed.

Actually, I directed the chiefs of police of PALMA-P including Banisilan and Carmen, also towns of Cotabato province to coordinate with the principals of high school and elementary schools to come up with statistics how many students have been missing or dropped out from schools since the the armed conflict broke out. He revealed that in Banisilan, a total of 103 students were no longer reporting to their classes. He further revealed that in one school alone in the Carmen area, there are 36 students who cannot be found anymore.

We are not saying that these students were casualties but we were just trying to connect our information and data. We are also to prove that the MILF is using minors – 14,15, 16,17 years old and we are trying to gather this information for so many things as well as for future reference.

As of now, the gathered data of school drops from Libungan, Alamada, Banisilan, Matalam, Midsayap and Pikit are 551 with high school drop outs of 448 and elementary school drop outs of 103, the PALMA-P Task Force commander divulged.

In the same press conference, 602nd brigade commander Col Alejandro Estomo said the peace and order situation in the area of responsibility of the brigade (North Cotabato, Pagalungan Montawal and Upper Kabuntalan towns in Maguindanao) is unpredictable because, he said, it is the MILF who are the attackers. “We are at the mercy of the MILF but we are doing our best to secure civilians. Umbra Kato is a resident of the area. That is why it is not easy to get him,” he added.

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