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Philippine student deaths raise alarm over teen gangs

About 300 gang wars occur on average per year in the country

The sister of teenager Carl Arnaiz, who was shot and killed after he allegedly robbed a taxi driver at gunpoint, weeps during a Mass ahead of his burial at the Mater Dolorosa Parish in Manila in 2017

The sister of teenager Carl Arnaiz, who was shot and killed after he allegedly robbed a taxi driver at gunpoint, weeps during a Mass ahead of his burial at the Mater Dolorosa Parish in Manila in 2017. (Photo: AFP)

Published: January 26, 2023 12:01 PM GMT

Updated: January 27, 2023 03:12 AM GMT

The recent killing of two students in Manila by fellow classmates has sparked concerns over gang-related violence in Philippine schools.

Two students were killed in Culiat High School and Juan Graciano High School, both government-run institutes, in the capital Manila on Jan. 20 and 23 respectively, local media reported.

Carlos Rivera, 15, died after he was stabbed in the chest by a fellow student with a pen knife, who allegedly attempted to recruit him to a teen gang. The violence at Juan Graciano High School occurred on Jan. 23.

“They were both wearing khaki pants and white shirts with school logo, and they [the assailant and the victim] knew each other because there was an altercation first,” store owner and witness Clara Ochoa told UCA News.

Ochoa said the event happened “so fast” because Rivera was fixing his books in his bag when the assailant approached him.

Police investigators confirmed Rivera was a neophyte of a local gang and was under initiation.

His assailant, Richard Unson, 16, was a member of the Brotherhood of Martyrs, a local gang in Quezon City.

“In our investigation, Rivera was applying to be a member... but before becoming a full-fledged member, he had to undergo hazing… This type of group was responsible for breaking windows of cars to get laptops left behind by their owners and street rumbles because of gang wars,” Quezon City police investigator Hector Calma told UCA News.

Police reports revealed Rivera and his assailant’s altercation was because of a sports tournament Rivera failed to attend.

“It began in a simple basketball game. The gang wanted the victim to play for a certain team because he [Rivera] was a good basketball player. The gang placed a huge bet on the team… instead Rivera played in the opposite team,” Calma added.

Meanwhile, a 13-year-old student died after he was stabbed in the chest by his 15-year-old classmate at Culiat High School on Jan. 20.

The assailant is also a suspected member of a teen gang who is accused of bullying students to join their group.

“We saw him [the victim] being bullied many times after his classes by a certain Roel. Roel would ask money from lower batches [of students] … he and his company were members of a local gang,” the victim’s school teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, told UCA News.

The victim’s mother said her son’s grades started to decline during the opening of schools when students were allowed to interact with each another.

“I cannot keep an eye on him all the time, whether he joined extracurricular activities or other groups because all these have been suspended since the pandemic began,” the victim’s mother Zara Diano told UCA News.

Police authorities also said gangs had beefed up their recruitment process in the opening of classes which led to bullying.

“Part of their initiation is to collect money that came from other gang members or from their classmates. So, bullying has become a part of their initiation. The more money they collect, the more they will be spared from the initiation,” Quezon City Police Capt. Anthony Dacquel told reporters on Jan. 23.

The police officer said several high school students surrendered ice picks and knives after they were asked to surrender their weapons or face punitive actions including criminal charges, expulsion from schools, and jailing.

The Department of Education has heightened security measures in government schools to avert further violence.

“Police visibility is still an effective way to curb crimes that frightens criminals from doing their evil plan,” education department Undersecretary Dexter Galban told UCA News.

Father Leonardo Urayaw, executive secretary of the National Catechetical Office of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, underlined the need for values education and catechism classes for the youth. 

“The presence of violence in schools is a challenge to us all to provide Catholic and values education to children to make them more peace-loving,” Father Urayaw told UCA News.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development revealed in a 2020 report that 7 out of 10 high school students suffered from violence while in school.

A study entitled “Towards A Child-friendly Education System: A Baseline Study on Violence Against Children in Public Schools” found more than 6,000 reported school violence incidents per year without counting unreported cases.

“There are more cases that remain unreported. We think it is double the figure,” said Prof. Jericho Lian from the Philippine Normal University.

From 2000 to 2022, 44 youth members died due to gang wars that occurred mostly in slums, with many cases that remained unreported, according to police authorities.

“We have an average of 300 recorded gang wars per year according to police authorities. This is because of poverty because more students do not go to school,” Philippine sociologist Paolo Renante told UCA News.


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