Groups hit school for punishing girl over ‘bikini’ pic

KD Suarez
Freedom of expression, strict school rules, and even violence against women became topics for discussion, after news broke about a girl in Cebu barred from graduation ceremonies for a picture of her in a bikini

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Freedom of expression, strict school rules, and even violence against women became topics for discussion, as the issue over a teenager barred from attending her graduation over her photo in a bikini spread online and offline.

On Wednesday, a Cebu court said a civil suit has been filed against Saint Theresa’s College in the city, for barring a 16-year-old girl from her graduation ceremony after it was found out she posted on Facebook a photo of herself wearing a bikini.

The suit said the teenager had “suffered sleepless nights” since being punished for the photo, which allegedly showed her having “ample body exposure.”

In a statement, the Student Council Alliance of the Philippines (SCAP) “condemned” the administration of St. Theresa’s College (STC) in Cebu.

Violating rights

SCAP said STC violated the Bill of Rights, which guarantees every person’s freedom of speech and expression. The group also said the school violated the Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Act (Republic Act 9262) “for causing psychological violence to the student causing humiliation and trauma.”

The group also criticized the school’s student handbook, saying it “teems with rules and regulations that violate students’ rights and the Constitution,” citing provisions that “impede on the private and personal affairs of their students.”

“STC should be made accountable to the bias and bigotry that they have shown to the public, especially against women and children,” SCAP said.

They called on the court handling the case to expedite the case, and urged the Department of Education, the Commission on Human Rights, and the National Youth Commission to investigate the policies of the school.

The National Youth Commission also expressed its concern over the incident, and implored on the STC to allow the student to attend her commencement exercises.

NYC said the the action of the STC was a “clear violation and abuse of the rules on academic freedom,” saying the school is extending it for “an excuse to impinge on the personal rights and freedom of their students.”

“Students’ civil and political liberties are protected by the Constitution under the Bill of Rights. Ang Academic Freedom naman ay hindi nabuo para kontrolin at pakialaman ang personal na buhay o gawain ng mga estudyante (Academic Freedom wasn’t formed to control and meddle in students’ personal lives),” NYC Commissioner-at-Large Gio Tingson said.

School: We showed mercy

STC, meanwhile, justified its action, saying it “showed mercy” by only barring the student from her graduation, adding the girl will still be able to graduate.

The school is asking the court to dismiss the case, citing in a memorandum that their decision is “a call to true repentance and conversion, the central theme of the New Testament and a cornerstone of the Christian life.”

“The decision to allow (the student) to graduate is another act of mercy but the decision not to allow her to join the commencement exercise puts order to the virtue of mercy,” Sun.Star Cebu quoted the memorandum, which was signed by STC lawyer Romeo Balili.

Online reaction

In social media, Rappler asked followers about their views on the issue. Numerous comments criticized the school’s action, though some said the school also had the right to impose its rules.

“What constitutes immorality? Should we consider everyone who has worn, wearing, and will wear a bikini as immoral?,” posted Loren Lee, commenting on the statement made Balili that the rules were to “maintain the morality of the school.”

“Did they expect her to wear maong and long sleeves to the beach?” she added.

“Wearing a bikini is immoral? Wow,” said Bingkai Barba.

“Taking too far,” said Grace Bondad Nicolas.

“Unreasonably strict, conservative nuns,” tweeted Dianne Solmayor.

“Admonish the girl for breaking the rules but beyond that is being morally hypocritical when bishops keep quiet about pedophiles,” tweeted Cesar de los Reyes.

“Private Catholic schools have the right to uphold their character and values as determined by the mission it seeks to fulfill. And every student is bound to abide and be formed by it, from the day that they enroll,” said Eimann Evarola.

The girl’s family wants her to be allowed to attend the ceremony, and is also demanding unspecified damages.

The Department of Education said they will look into the case. – Rappler.com

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