CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines – About 60 high school students from this city and neighboring towns were brought to a municipality in Lanao del Sur purposely to register for the coming elections under fictitious names on Friday, police said Saturday.
The students and out-of-school youth, aged 14 to 16 years old, were transported by a convoy of seven vans to Butig town, said city police spokesperson Major Evan Viñas.
“It was probable that they came from different schools and areas in Cagayan de Oro and other areas,” he said.
Viñas said a group of students from Iponan National High School was convinced by a fellow student to go for a joyride to Iligan City Friday morning, “but they (students) were surprised when the vans they were riding went all the way to Butig.”
According to those interviewed by the police, the minors were brought to a building in Butig and were told to write a fake name on a sheet of paper that appeared to be a voter registration form. They also had their thumb print and their photos taken.
Students told police the building where they supposedly registered as voters has no Commission on Elections signage and the people who assisted them in the registration process were carrying high-powered firearms.
The students also noticed men brandishing weapons in the area. A flag that does not resemble the Philippine official flag also hang in the flagpole.
They said they were then given P300 each after registering. They returned to their respective homes at around 10 PM the same day.
“We are still investigating who brought them to Butig. We want to know if they are an armed anti-government group,” Viñas said.
Based on reports, Butig used to be a stronghold of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the Maute Group, a band of extremists that pledged allegiance to the Islamic State who engaged the state forces in a months-long war in Marawi in 2017.
Viñas said part of their investigation was on how the students were able to skip classes without the knowledge of their teachers.
He said some parents went to police at around 7:00 PM when their kids failed come home.
Shortly after, few of the parents were able to get in touch with their children who told them of their experience.
During their short stay in Butig, Viñas said the students were told they will be given firearms if they come back, preferably on Sept. 22.
“This is alarming because these students could be recruited by an armed group. That’s why we are really investigating this incident,” he said. (davaotoday.com)