American teachers to be deployed to Muslim schools in Philippines

American teachers will be sent to Muslim religious schools in the southern Philippines to teach English and democratic values, a presidential aide said.

The teachers will teach at madrassas, or Muslim schools, in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao under an agreement between Manila and the US envoy to the Philippines, said Mona Dumlao Valisno, President Gloria Arroyo's special assistant for education.

US ambassador Francis Ricciardone made the commitment to Valisno in a meeting in December, but the two governments have yet to decide how many teachers would be made available and when they would start.

About 500 Muslim teachers met with Valisno in the south last year and welcomed proposals to allow Americans to teach in their schools, said Valisno spokeswoman Maria Teresa Mapalo.

There are some 3,000 madrassas in the south, most of them concentrating on teaching Arabic and the Koran, but many also seek to teach English, math and science, Mapalo said.

The Muslim autonomous region, home to some 2.2 million people, is one of the poorest areas in the mainly Roman Catholic nation. It is also a hotbed of armed groups including Muslim separatist rebels.

Muslim kidnapping gangs, who often prey on foreigners and Christians for ransom money, are also active in these areas. They include the Abu Sayyaf, a group allegedly linked to the al-Qaeda terror network.

President Gloria Arroyo recently ordered government schools to return to using English as the main medium of instruction in order to stay globally competitive.