EDITORIAL - Preventing a culture of abuse

The Philippine Star

After two years of lockdowns and distance learning, students have shown eagerness to return to face-to-face classes, even if it means risking COVID infection. School authorities must ensure that the students will not have to worry about other problems that could be worse than a mild case of COVID.

In Kalinga, a viral video showed a teacher hitting and pinching the ears of two elementary students who appeared to be struggling with a mathematics problem on the blackboard. Last May, Franco Arañas was dismissed from the New Cabalan National High School in Olongapo City on charges of sexually abusing three students.

Over in Cavite, five teachers of the Bacoor National High School have been suspended by the Department of Education for 90 days and face administrative charges related to allegations of sexually harassing students. Two other teachers who were also linked to harassment of students and inappropriate behavior were cleared due to what the DepEd described as insufficiency of evidence.

Unless such cases are dealt with early, the problem can become entrenched and traumatize generations of school children. This seems to be the situation in the Philippine High School for the Arts on Mount Makiling in Laguna, which is operated by the DepEd. Several PHSA alumni have come out to detail the sexual, physical and emotional abuse that they say they suffered at the hands of teachers, with PHSA officials allegedly ignoring their complaints.

An in-depth report released last June by New York-based VICE News pointed to what the aggrieved alumni described as a “culture of abuse” in the elite boarding school for the nation’s most gifted youths in various fields of art. PHSA officials branded the “sweeping generalization” in the report as “unfair” even as they gave assurance that they were working on creating a safe learning environment for their students.

A thorough investigation will uncover the truth. DepEd officials said complaints can be sent to [email protected], which is a “direct line” to Education Secretary Sara Duterte. Complaints may also be coursed through telephone numbers 8633-1942, 8635-9817 and 09959218461 even after working hours.

To secure the conviction of offenders, probers naturally want indictments to be based on formal charges. This will require signed affidavits of the victims or their guardians as well as witnesses who may also be minors. Confidentiality will have to be guaranteed. Unless they consent to publicly release their personal details, the complainants’ privacy cannot be compromised by any data breach.

Physical violence, sexual harassment and abuse can traumatize children for life. Child welfare advocates have reported an increase of cases of physical and sexual abuse of children in their own homes during the pandemic lockdowns. Schools are supposed to provide a safe haven from abusive home environments, apart from being centers of learning.

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