Baguio high school basketball coach accused of sexual harassment
MANILA, Philippines – For many aspiring basketball players, getting close to their coach is a special relationship developed on the hardcourt.
One coach, however, allegedly took a different approach in nurturing his relationship with his "favored players" – all minors. He fawned over them and showered them expensive gifts, but this supposedly came with a hefty price tag that has scarred them for life.
In a Facebook post on the second day of 2018, Fil-Am Josiah Weihman, 28, shared his experience involving his former basketball coach, Leo Arnaiz, when he still played for the high school team of Christian Legacy Academy (CLA) in Baguio City.
Weihman told Rappler that Arnaiz, who insisted on being called "kuya" or big brother, had a habit of giving out expensive gifts and inviting players for sleepovers at his place, depending on his personal favorite at the moment. It was the "norm", Weihman recalled. (READ: The many faces of sexual harassment in PH)
One Saturday morning, Weihman, then 14, trained at Arnaiz's house with the rest of the team. After a day of exhausting training, Arnaiz brought Weihman to the teen's home to get clothes, then headed back to his place for the planned sleepover.
At Arnaiz's home, the coach reportedly showed Weihman a website containing graphic images and videos of people being tied up, raped, and beheaded. They viewed the violent content on Arnaiz's computer for hours. "Don't share this with anyone," Weihman recalled his coach telling him then. It was supposed to be their secret.
As Weihman continued to use the computer, Arnaiz sat on the bed and asked the boy to massage his wrist as it was supposedly painful from that day's basketball practice. The teen obliged. Arnaiz rested his wrist, palm up, on the boy's leg.
In his Facebook post, Weihman said his last memory of that night was the airconditioning being turned full blast, even though they were in Baguio City, where the chilly weather didn't require it. He said in his post that when he woke up the next morning, the front of his shorts was soaking wet.
In his interview with Rappler, Weihman recalled what happened. "He masturbated me," he said.
(Rappler repeatedly tried to get the side of Arnaiz – on Saturday, January 6, we reached out to him via Facebook, he read the message on Sunday, January 7, but did not respond. We sent another follow-up message on Monday, January 8, but the message was left unopened. On Tuesday, January 9, we sent him messages and called him but these were also unanswered. He has yet to respond to phone calls and messages as of posting.)
In retrospect, Weihman said that "Kuya Leo" gives the impression of being a generous, loving "big brother" and not an authority figure. He is a friend whom you can share secrets with. He gives his favorites new jackets and new shoes.
He is also a very sweet guy. He loves telling his favorites how he loves them or how he missed them. He likes giving hugs. All these acts, Weihman said, are apparently part of Arnaiz's strategy to draw kids closer to him and earn their trust.
Apart from being a sports coach, Arnaiz is also a pastor. At the time that Weihman was part of the team, Arnaiz was known as a disciplinarian who ordered the boys on the CLA team not to have girlfriends.
"It's like you have to push your doubts aside. But everything's calculated. He's selective of what he does and when he does it, he is setting it up. Everyone wants to be close to him because you get to ride in a good car, get to be somebody," Weihman said.
Arnaiz made sexual advances on Weihman twice. "He doesn't touch everyone. It's a select few. It's like 'flavor of the month' – some are longer than the others," he said.
It took him half his lifetime to break his silence on his experience. "I was keeping it inside forever," he said.
Weihman is currently residing in the United States. In 2016, when he went back to the Philippines, he finally got confirmation for himself that he was sexually harassed and that the same thing happened to others as well.
"Confirmation didn't come until 2016. No one to talk to. Who do I talk to?....Unless somebody makes a formal complaint, it's just dismissed as rumors," he said.
After Weihman came out with his story on his Facebook page, several others messaged him – some said they weren't molested, while others shared the same unfortunate experience.
Those who had the same experience recounted stories that follow the same pattern: as the boys became the "favorite" kid in the team, they received gifts from "Kuya Leo" and were invited to dinner and sleepovers after practice. It was every player's "dream" until the morning after the sleepover.
Nenuko (not his real name)*, 13 at that time, wasn't especially skilled in basketball. He was considered short for a basketball player and very shy, but he had good grades. He was a "bench boy" and the designated sender of text messages informing the team of practice schedules.
When Nenuko was invited for a sleepover, he thought it was his chance to be Arnaiz's favorite. Kuya Leo was known to be generous. Before they headed to his house, he bought him a Walkman discman mp3 player at the local mall. Nenuko recalled it cost around P9,000 at that time.
Arnaiz's generosity didn't end there. He brought Nenuko to a jewelry shop and got him a 24-carat gold necklace, worth around P20,000. "If he gives you a necklace, it's a sign that you're now his favorite. All of his favorites have that. We all have cross pendants but in different designs," he told Rappler.
After their shopping spree, Arnaiz brought him to his room and asked him to sit on his lap as they viewed graphic images of violence on his computer. Hours later, he asked Nenuko to take a shower and offered him his loose clothes so that the boy could wear something to sleep.
Nenuko said Arnaiz then told him that it was unhealthy to wear briefs while sleeping. At 13, Nenuko thought it was true. The boy came out of the shower wearing only Kuya Leo's oversized shirt and boxer shorts.
That night, as he slept, he felt the man touching his private parts. The boy, ashamed and shocked, pretended to be asleep. He was supposed to be considered lucky during that first sleepover since Arnaiz only touched him. In the following sleepovers, however, the coach started masturbating him as the boy "slept."
"He was masturbating me. I was pretending to be asleep because I was scared to leave...If I try to run away, how do I come home?" asked Nenuko.
It went on for more than a year. Nenuko said he started making excuses, and finally asked Arnaiz to first seek the permission of his father for the sleepovers.
"My parents didn't know. There's a part of me that feels ashamed. As a male, it's humiliating to reveal such experiences," said Nenuko.
In the case of ND (not his real name)*, he had dinner with Arnaiz and other kids from the team. He recalled having wine because his coach had it too. "Drink as much wine as you want," he remembered Kuya Leo telling him.
When they arrived at his house, ND was still buzzed from all the wine he drank, but he had a sense of what his coach wanted to happen. As they viewed violent images on the adult's computer, the teen tried to stay awake and managed to stay away from Arnaiz. He took his time using the coach's computer.
Arnaiz thought ND was having a hard time falling asleep, so he offered him a "sleeping pill." ND stayed still on the bed when the coach started to touch himself.
"He grabbed my hand and wanted me to touch him. He tried touching me but I moved his hand away. Then he went back to touching himself," ND told Rappler. He said he couldn't remember if he was touched while asleep.
Like the other boys, ND also got a gold necklace with a cross pendant. Arnaiz also bought him a Sony Ericsson P800 phone. After a couple of months, the coach replaced it with a Sony Ericsson P900.
Weihman has reached out to his former high school to report Arnaiz's acts.
Rappler asked CLA about Weihman's allegations against Arnaiz through the school's official Facebook page. In response, CLA said in a statement that it treats allegations "seriously".
"CLA as an institution has always treated any allegations seriously. This allegation, which transpired 14+ years ago and not brought to our attention then [and] which cannot be proven to be true or untrue, throws us off-guard and introspection is the order of the day," the statement said.
"But for the sake of those who are not privy to the whole scenario, preventive measures are effected," it added.
Rappler asked the school to list these preventive measures, but CLA has yet to respond as of posting.
Weihman said that he himself sent a message to Arnaiz to confront him about his actions. Weihman said Arnaiz apologized for mentally "tormenting" him.
"He apologized for 'tormenting me and others mentally' and for the 'effect' of what he did to 'make (me) and others feel used and taken advantage of,'" Weihman said, quoting Arnaiz's reply.
"I asked him directly, 'Are you still touching kids?' His answer was he was focused on charity and all the good things he has done and how he's found forgiveness in God. He's a pastor anyway!" Weihman added.
"Multiple times, he asked me: 'What did I do to you?' I told him, you touched me, you masturbated me, you held me that night, and I just wanted morning to come."
For Weihman, it's important to share his experience not only to help other victims but also because this is part of his healing process.
"Today, I now have two boys. They are my world. As a parent, it hits me on a whole different level. I am broken for these children. I would do anything to protect my own sons," he said.
Weihman extends his support to other victims who have to bear a stigma, especially if they come out. "There's a stigma that you are just tainting his reputation or that you are lying. But what have I to gain?"
"The sad thing is, it's still happening – whether he's moved platform from basketball or soccer or hopped churches or cities even. The fact is, it's still happening," Weihman said, adding that he received reports of other allegations against Arnaiz. (READ: Everyone is talking about sexual harassment and this is why you should, too)
Currently, Arnaiz has several engagements in CLA and in other schools and ministries to preach and train poor students in basketball and soccer.
Weihman said he came out with his story so that other kids would be empowered to share their stories as well. "Current victims can come out and be heard," he said.
"As a community, we were betrayed. Baguio is tiny. We are a family. Your friends of friends or kids, they grew up together. As a community, we were fooled," he said. (READ: UN Women urges people to report sexual harassment cases)
Weihman, Nenuko, and ND invited other victims to share their stories. Weihman reminded others that Arnaiz was the one at fault.
"You are not in any way at fault because he’s at fault for manipulating and betraying your trust. It’s a lot to process. Give yourself time to grieve, be patient for yourself and others. We all process in a different way. I'm here to listen and support you. There's a big difference between forgiveness and trust. You're not alone," said Weihman.
Sexual harassment in the PH
In the Philippines, Republic Act No. 7877, or the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995, classifies sexual harassment as an act committed in a work-related or an educational environment.
In a school setting, sexual harassment involves a person of authority – a teacher or a coach – who may demand or require sexual favor from a student in exchange for passing grades, a scholarship grant, a stipend, allowance, or other benefits.
Sexual harassment can be punished under RA 7877, and under the provisions of the Revised Penal Code on Acts of Lasciviousness.
Offenders can be penalized with imprisonment of one to 6 months, a fine of P10,000 to P20,000, or both. Acts of lasciviousness can be punished with imprisonment under the Revised Penal Code. – Rappler.com
*Names were changed upon request.
All quotations were translated to English.