As it condemned the alleged “normalization” of bullying and abuse in the Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA), a group called for concrete action to protect the learners and make the elimination of sexual violence a top priority.
The Civil Society Network for Education Reforms (E-Net Philippines), in a statement, expressed concern about the alleged culture of bullying, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and violence happening at the PHSA.
The PHSA, the country’s premier art school, is currently embroiled in controversy following allegations made by alumni as published in an article online.
E-Net also noted a letter addressed to PHSA administrators signed by 89 current students and 79 alumni in January 2022. The said letter was demanding the school leadership to investigate the alleged abuses and ensure “safe spaces” when they resume physical classes post-lockdown in August.
“Sexual violence perpetuated against children is a gross violation of fundamental human rights and bears long-term devastating impact on the victims,” E-Net said.
A national coalition of civil society organizations engaged in policy advocacy and partnerships for education reforms, E-Net also expressed serious concern about the “impact of these sexual abuse experiences” on children’s well-being.
“When our learners feel unsafe in school, they have the tendency to avoid certain classroom or school activities,” the coalition said.
Trauma from sexual abuse and violence, E-Net added, also “creates a lingering sense of powerlessness, shame, fear, all of which can affect a victim’s quality of life long term.”
E-Net noted that there have been significant gains in protecting children and youth from violence in schools through the enactment of enabling laws such as R.A. No. 11313 or The Safe Spaces Act which covers all forms of gender-based sexual harassment (GBSH) committed in public spaces, educational or training institutions, workplace, and online space.
The group also cited that the Department of Education (DepEd) has issued policies on Child Protection such as D.O. No. 40, s. 2012 which constitutes the policy and guidelines on protecting children in school from abuse, violence, exploitation, discrimination, bullying, and other forms of abuse.
“The full implementation of these laws and policies is fundamental to guarantee that all children and youth are protected against all forms of abuse and exploitation in schools and other educational institutions and that they feel safe in the spaces where they learn, live and play,” it added.
Related to this, E-Net underscored the urgent need to make everyone “aware of these policies and procedures communicates to the entire school community that sexual harassment, abuse and violence will not be tolerated and anyone who engages in these behaviors will be held accountable.”
“The more that appropriate strategies for supporting and protecting students are embedded in everyday policies, procedures, and practices, the more sustainable a safe and positive school climate becomes,” it added.