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Pisay students to school board: Don't let students who shared lewd photos graduate

MANILA, Philippines – Students and parents filled the grandstand of the Philippine Science High School (PSHS) main campus on Thursday, May 23, to hold the school's board of trustees (BOT) accountable for allowing 6 students to graduate despite having been recommended for disciplinary action for sharing lewd photos of female school mates online.

Clad in black, students asked the PSHS board to reconsider its decision to allow the 6 male students to march, despite findings from the school’s own management committee (MC) and discipline committee (DC) recommending otherwise. They said the students should not be allowed to graduate and that they be given certificates of completion instead. 

“We condemn their tolerance of harmful and damaging acts. We encourage everyone to fight against sexual harassment, to continue fighting for safe classrooms and learning environments, and to continue searching for the untarnished truth,” a student said as she stood before her peers.

After months of investigation, the school’s MC and DC found 6 male students liable for multiple “level 3” or serious offenses after lewd photos and videos of female students were shared online without the girls’ consent. 

By the school’s code of conduct, having more than one level 3 offense would make a student ineligible for graduation. But according to parents and students, the management committee’s recommendation to bar these 6 students from marching was quickly overturned by the PSHS board of trustees.

GATHERING. Philippine Science High School students hold a gathering in solidarity with female students whose photos were shared online.

Photo by Sofia Tomacruz/Rappler

Unanswered questions

Not one member of the PSHS board came to face the students, parents, and faculty members.

“If ever, in the very remote chance that they get off from this incident scot-free, at least in your minds and your hearts, do not forget what happened,” Daryl, an older brother of one of the affected girls, told the students on Thursday afternoon.

PSHS executive director Lilia Habacon told Rappler the school board was currently studying the matter. 

"The board is carefully and judiciously studying the matter. At this time, no final resolution is yet reached but will do so before graduation," Habacon said in a text message. 

Among the board members are Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato de la Peña, Education Secretary Leonor Briones, Senator Bam Aquino, Congressman Erico Aumentado, Habacon, and University of the Philippines Danilo Concepcion.

Without an explanation and with their questions still unanswered, students – backed by parents, teachers, and alumni – demanded they be heard.

In a statement, the graduating class’ batch council, along with other students, said not only did the 6 male students violate school rules but also Republic Act 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act for having shared the photos of their female classmates online without their consent.

Addressing the school’s board of trustees, students said officials betrayed their trust.

“The dignities of the victims have been damaged. The offenders have reduced them to mere objects of sexual desire, instead of human beings who deserve the utmost respect. A lenient decision is not an act of compassion…. It is a display of indifference to the experiences and voices of the victims who have entrusted this institution to uphold the very values it has come to define itself by,” they said in a statement.

They added: “We strongly urge the board of trustees to take the concerns forwarded…into account and to provide the basis of their decision. We also implore the board of trustees to reconsider their decision regarding the matter for the sake of our batch and the rest of the PSHS community.”

GROUP HUG. Students gather for a group hug after the gathering.

Photo by Sofia Tomacruz/Rappler

Backed by community 

Parents and teachers echoed this, saying the board has the duty to protect all students.

“We believe that it (board) should immediately reconsider its earlier decision downgrading the offenses committed by the 6 male students, and adopt the recommendations of the management committee and PSHS executive council (EC). Otherwise the PSHS-BOT is sending the wrong message that it is acceptable to ignore the rights of these female students,” the parent teacher council said in a statement.

Alumni of several batches also threw their support behind the students. A statement by the school class of 1980 called for the BOT to be transparent with their decision.

“We are not passing our own judgement on the guilt of the 6 students. What we are voicing is our concern that the PSHS system’s due process – from Disciplinary Officer to DC to MC to EC – was given short shrift by the BOT, the recommendations disregarded for whatever reasons not even made transparent,” they said. 

A student representative of the graduating batch said she hoped the BOT would take their call seriously. The class is set to graduate Wednesday, May 29.

“A part of me wants to understand them, maybe they have a lot of other things to do. They’re officials of the Philippines and they probably have other priorities…but we’re also human beings, we are part of the country and we should also be part of your agenda,” she said. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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