Department of Education

DepEd taps NBI to investigate sexual abuse reports in PHSA

Michelle Abad

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DepEd taps NBI to investigate sexual abuse reports in PHSA
The Department of Education says it 'does not tolerate abuses in any form' but a sexual abuse survivor notes that reporting mechanisms should make it easier for students to come forward

MANILA, Philippines – Two weeks since Vice World News released a bombshell report on abuse allegations in the Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA), the Department of Education (DepEd) announced it has tapped the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to investigate reports of emotional, verbal, and sexual abuse reports in the school.

Education Secretary and Vice President Sara Duterte requested the NBI to provide a comprehensive report as soon as possible, the DepEd said in a statement on Tuesday, July 12.

“I hope something will change, but that’s just me being optimistic. Unless they really do something, and they acknowledge it and be accountable for it – both PHSA and DepEd,” said Jerom Canlas in an interview with Rappler on Monday, July 11. Canlas is a PHSA theater arts graduate and a survivor of sexual abuse from his teacher.

Canlas was reflecting on whether students would be safe as they return to face-to-face classes in the campus situated on Mount Makiling, Los Baños.

The PHSA is a public educational institution attached to the DepEd. The DepEd is also set to conduct its own investigation through its Child Protection Unit and Child Rights in Education Desk in line with its Child Protection Policy.

The DepEd also said that the PHSA has informed the department that it was “examining the current and prior information on the matter.”

The education department encouraged concerned members of the community to submit complaints to the school’s Committee on Decorum and Investigation (CODI), the committee mandated by the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 to investigate sexual harassment reports.

The DepEd and PHSA are reviewing the school’s existing policies, and “strengthening” internal mechanisms to better guarantee students’ safety while inside the school’s premises, according to the DepEd.

“The Department would like to reiterate that the agency does not tolerate abuses in any form. Under the strong leadership of Secretary Sara Duterte, DepEd will continuously promote a healthy and safe environment for our learners and teachers,” the department said.

Problem is ‘systematic’

The PHSA’s July 6 statement on the allegations said its processes in dealing with disciplinary matters were recognized by the DepEd, the Civil Service Commission, the Commission on Human Rights, and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).

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However, Canlas said that these reporting mechanisms should make it easier for students to come forward.

Hindi lang sa PHSA – sa lahat ng mga schools natin, dapat ma-empower ‘yung mga estudyante, staff, everybody, na kapag may abuso, magsi-speak up. At hindi [dapat iniisip na] detrimental sa image ng school or whatever, pero dahil hindi siya talaga dapat nangyayari,” he said.

(Not only in PHSA – in all of our schools, the students, staff, and everybody else should be empowered that, in cases of abuse, they should speak up. And this shouldn’t be considered detrimental to the image of the school or whatever, but it should be understood as something that should not be happening.)

“For DepEd and other institutions who have power to change things, I think they must constantly check in, not just with the staff – because the staff can manipulate the story and the kind of community environment they’re raising – but to check in personally with the students,” said “Denise,” not her real name, who was also harassed at PHSA and told her story in the Vice World News report.

A teacher at PHSA, who requested not to be named, said that PHSA’s Gender and Development Committee should conduct constant training of teachers and staff in handling children, and the school’s CODI “must assist victim-survivors and advocates instead of making it hard for victims to report.”

The teacher also called for the establishment of a violence against women and children (VAWC) desk or anti-sexual harassment office or desk.

Ang hirap dahil sistema siya. Di lang isang tao, pero kultura siya, sistema siya. Kaya mahirap siyang baguhin. Overhaul talaga siya. It starts with something and the next, and then it’s a whole thing na. Mahirap pero dapat pagtrabahuin,” said Canlas.

(It is difficult because this is a system. It is not only one person, but it is a culture and a system. That’s why it’s difficult to change. There must be an overhaul. It starts with something and the next, and then it’s a whole thing. It is difficult, but [the institutions] must work towards it.)

The DepEd also announced on Tuesday that beginning November 2, all public and private schools should have transitioned to face-to-face classes, five days a week. –

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers the rights of women and children, migrant Filipinos, and labor.