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US school used by Filipino troops in Zamboanga to fight rebels is looted 

Two Filipino soldiers ran past a signboard of the American Career Training Institute to avoid sniper fires in Zamboanga City in southern Philippines where troops fought separatist rebels for three weeks. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)

ZAMBOANGA CITY (Mindanao Examiner / Sept. 29, 2013) – A U.S. school used by Filipino soldiers in attacking separatist rebels in Zamboanga City in southern Philippines had been looted, its 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 situated in Santa Barbara, scene of three weeks of fierce clashes between troops and Moro National Liberation Front rebels.

The Filipino owner,  Norida Patrick, said they reported the matter to the police and military authorities and to Zamboanga Mayor Maria Isabelle Salazar, who sought an investigation into the looting.

“I seek justice to what happened to our school,” Patrick 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) at first and now the Patrick’s. We seek justice to the looting done to our school,” she said.

The owners said they had 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,” Patrick said.

Troops managed to enter the school after its 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,” Patrick 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.

There was no immediate statement from the military about the accusations, but the Philippine Army has detained 5 soldiers who were accused of looting a house in nearby Santa Catalina village at the height of the fighting.

Military interrogators were investigating the soldiers, who are members of the 9th Infantry Battalion, at 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. The soldiers took assorted jewelleries and other valuable things and also tried to open a vault left in the house.

An army official, privy to the ongoing investigation, said the soldiers could be expelled from the service if they are proven guilty of all accusations against them, and eventually charge in a civil court.

The soldiers, whose battalion is under the 9th Infantry Division, were sent here from the Bicol region to help augment hundreds of troops fighting Moro National Liberation Front rebels who stormed several villages on September 9.

It was unknown whether the 5 soldiers were also in the American Career Training Institute.(Mindanao Examiner)

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