The road to a bully-free Philippines
On September 12, 2013, President Aquino signed into law Republic Act No. 10627, or the Anti-Bullying Act of 2013. In a nutshell, the law prohibits bullying or any severe or repeated act which has any of the following effects: Causing physical or emotional harm; Creating a hostile environment at school; Infringing on another’s rights; and Substantially disrupting the orderly operation of a school.
Bullying under the law takes place only among elementary or high school students, whether or not of the same school, whether or not within school premises, and whether or not at a school-sanctioned event. Hence, bullying involving a college student, or one committed by or against a teacher, is not covered. Department of Education (DepEd) Order No. 40, or the Department of Education Child Protection Policy addresses the latter.
Cyberbullying now illegal
It is worthy to note that the fact that bullying can be committed outside school premises means that cyberbullying, or bullying done through electronic means, is amply covered. Accessing a computer at home away from school in order to bully another will not provide refuge to the offender.
In addition to defining the prohibited act and giving examples thereof, the law imposes an obligation on elementary and secondary schools to craft and publish within school premises and website their respective policies against bullying. The same must incorporate mandatory provisions on the redress of grievance and prevention of injury caused by bullying, which include:
- Sanctions against the offender, which sanctions must be commensurate to the act done;
- A rehabilitation program for both the offender and the victim, joined by their parents; and
- Procedures for the prompt and effective response to bullying.
Also, all teachers and members of the school administration now have a duty to immediately report any instance of bullying that may come to their attention. These incidents, in turn, will have to be reported to DepEd every first week of each school year beginning school year 2014-2015.
Lastly, schools have six (6) months from the effectivity of the law within which to submit to DepEd their RA 10627-compliant anti-bullying policies.
Public school teachers and administrators who fail to perform a duty under the law will be imposed administrative sanctions, while private school teachers and employees will be dealt with in accordance with the procedure of their own schools. The license to operate of erring private schools will likewise be suspended.
A good start
Although the law is only limited to elementary and secondary schools, it is a welcome development.
At this point, no one questions the horrible outcomes of bullying. If the victim is unable to return to normal and integrate into society, he either dies or survives without self-esteem. The latter means that the victim is a shell without the human spirit—unable to dream and reach his potential. Worse, he feeds off on healthier spirits, slowly transforming into a bully himself. As a result, gifts and talents remain hidden. Leaders shirk. No street is safe. Society then is marred by mediocrity and defeat.
A government that claims progress is at hand yet fails to acknowledge the issue is indeed to be doubted. After all, a competitive nation is characterized by creation, not destruction.
Given the dangers, the fight against bullying has always had legal underpinnings. The Constitution provides that the State has a duty to defend children from all forms of “abuse, cruelty, exploitation, and other conditions prejudicial to their development,” [Article XV, Sec. 3(2)], and to assure them of “quality education at all levels.” (Article XIV, Sec. 1) Certainly, education, much less quality education, is a myth when bullying thrives and makes the atmosphere hardly conducive to learning.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which the Philippines became a signatory in 1990, states that the “best interests of children” must be the primary concern of all governments when making decisions affecting them. It is in the best interests of children to be “protected from being hurt and being mistreated, physically or mentally.” (Art. 19)
In line with the Constitution and our international commitment towards children welfare, we have enacted domestic legislation. Presidential Decree No. 603, or the Child and Youth Welfare Code states that “[e]very child has the right to a well-rounded development of his personality to the end that he may become a happy, useful and active member of society.” To attain this, every child should be protected against “conditions or circumstances prejudicial to his physical, mental, emotional, social and moral development.”
The Family Code, on the other hand, imposes on the parents and those exercising substitute parental authority the duty to “enhance, protect, preserve and maintain (the child’s) physical and mental health at all times.”
Given that bullies are often a reflection of the precept and example set by their parents, parents have a duty to “prevent (children) from acquiring habits detrimental to their health, studies and morals.”
At par globally
Today, we have successfully added to these the new law against bullying, in line with the Constitution and our international commitment. In so doing, we have placed ourselves on the map in terms of global competitiveness and innovation along with nations like the United States, where a majority of states have an anti-bullying law, and Japan, whose anti-bullying law dates back to a decade earlier in 2001.
Plainly, we are all stakeholders in the matter. We must see to it that underway are more measures to curb, if not totally obliterate, this evil. With the new law, the first of its kind, we are a step closer to a bully-free Philippines. In an advanced civilization, being bullied does not reflect poorly on the victim. It reflects poorly on society.
Christopher Lao was heavily bullied online when an interview showing him complaining about government inefficiency went viral. A survivor, he is now a full-fledged lawyer and an advocate against bullying.
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