MANILA, Philippines – To stop sexual harassment in Philippine schools, abused students must be empowered in knowing about their rights and how to invoke them, said lawyer Francis Mangrobang on an episode of Rappler Talk on Friday, September 23.
“Our laws provide for what to do, and what the rights of the victims [or] the recipients of sexual harassment are. How it would be known to the youth, to the community, to the people, is also provided in the law. However, in practice, it doesn’t always reach the awareness of the communities,” said Mangrobang, legal officer of nongovernmental organization Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services (IDEALS).
Mangrobang said that while there may be mechanisms in place, survivors of abuse may not always use them. Sometimes, he said, they do not know who to approach – whether these be teachers, the school administration, or government agencies. “That’s why legal rights education is important here,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Apart from education, Mangrobang said there must be mechanisms in place that ensure prevention of further abuse from the side of institutions.
“Paano ba yan natin magagawa na ma-determine natin na itong isang taong ’to ay isang high risk sa being a predator? Wala pang mga ganoong bagay – ’yung mechanism to prevent. Ang preventive natin is magbigay ng kaalaman para sa ating kabataan,” he said.
(How can we determine that this person is at high-risk of being a predator? There are no mechanisms to prevent. Our preventive mechanism is increasing awareness to our youth.)
He added that these mechanisms must be efficient and accessible to young learners who may be afraid to speak up, as complaints cannot move forward if victims are unwilling.
Sexual harassment remains a perennial problem in Philippine schools, as students continue to speak up on social media about abuse they experienced or witnessed at the hands of their teachers. Even as campaigns have gone on for several years, more cases of impunity continue to surface online.
This raises questions on whether Filipino students are safe in their schools as they return to face-to-face classes.
‘Policies tend to lean towards predators’
Following recent reports of students being harassed in schools like the Philippine High School for the Arts and Bacoor National High School, survivors among different schools came together in a campaign called Enough is Enough. So far, EIE has convened victims from PHSA, BNHS, Porac Model Community High School, and Quezon City Science High School.
According to Enough is Enough lead convenor Sophia Beatriz Reyes, among the cases they have monitored, there have been no expulsions or convictions of predators.
“So here, the actual problem, which is in the policies, is brought to light. And said policies tend to lean towards the predators. For example, in the cases that are teacher to student or staff to student, DepEd (Department of Education) employees are protected, and this is more obvious in private schools, although this also happens in public schools where the risk of their reputation is layered as an additional concern,” Reyes said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Reyes said EIE observed that predators are usually advised to resign with their wages and benefits still intact, making it easy to just transfer to other schools or other jobs that allow interaction with vulnerable sectors. (READ: NBI suggests creating database of teachers with sexual abuse records)
“The laws we currently have in place do not exactly empower victim-survivors. Sometimes we have gaslighting from parents, from institutions… There are instances when survivors are prevented from coming forward with their stories, especially on social media,” said Reyes.
Reyes seconded Mangrobang in saying that the laws are also sometimes not readily accessible or available to communities. Technicalities, like the number of formal requirements, may be “intimidating for the students to know that this is how much they have to lose, to go through, in order for them to seek justice, when it’s supposed to be enough for them to have a complaint and for them to be able to speak up about it.”
The EIE convenor said stress is added to victim-survivors when schools do not provide lawyers or psycho-social help, which would call for added expenses.
“There’s also the shame that is instilled when victim-survivors come forward. Survivors feel the need to hide their identities because the prejudice is very present. So it’s all of these things I think that contribute to making it difficult to come forward,” said Reyes. – Rappler.com