At a glance:
- Sexual harassment in schools is not always overtly sexual. Predatory teachers would first befriend their victims. This process is called grooming.
- If not sexual or suggestive, the initial stages of grooming might not be penalized under current laws.
- When no case is filed, the teacher perpetrator may be able to keep teaching and victimize more students.
Trigger warning: This story contains descriptions of sexual harassment and predatory behavior.
These are the stories of Meulin*, Crystal*, and Jastine Yap.
As high school girls at St. Theresa’s College Quezon City (STCQC), they thought their male teachers were in love with them. The reality was, the older men were setting them up for sexual exploitation.
STCQC was one of the schools that were tagged in a 2020 social media campaign calling for more proactive and transparent handling of sexual harassment cases. Miriam College, St. Paul College Pasig, Ateneo de Manila University, School of the Holy Spirit of Quezon City, Marikina Science High School, and Bulacan State University also figured in the #DoBetter callout.
The trend emboldened survivors to come forward, and revealed impunity and danger in schools meant to be safe spaces for their students.
I was worried about it, but…
“Love is beyond good and evil.”
This was a quote Jastine Yap could not forget from her Grade 11 philosophy teacher in 2016. Mr. Morales*, once a missionary in Jamaica, was now a celebrity of sorts on campus – loved by administrators for his seminary background, and considered a “hottie prof” by students for his intelligence, tall and lean figure, cooking and singing talents, and boyish charm.
An oversharer, Morales wasn’t shy to message his students on Facebook Messenger or text them to ask how they were doing, or if they had eaten. Other times, he would tease them about a selfie they had posted on their Facebook Story.
In no time, Jastine, who was then 17, developed a friendship with Morales. In their chats, she felt like she was just talking to a boy her age. In reality, she knew he was 32.
“So this man who seemed to be so saintly, so different, for other students to discover, oh my god, he has this naughty side? Bad-boy-in-the-sheets vibe? That’s very interesting to a lot of people,” said Jastine, now a 3rd year college student.
The friendly messages – he called her “cutie” and “beautiful” – turned flirtatious. The teacher made double entendres that a high school girl, who didn’t have much experience with relationships, wouldn’t be able to pick up.
He said he “loved” her.
“I kept thinking, ‘I’m worried about it, I’m worried about it, I’m worried about it.’ But one day I was like, ‘Fuck it, okay? Love is beyond good and evil,’” Jastine said in a phone interview.
“After that, I stopped thinking about it. And then I started thinking, I love him, and I will hold on to that thing until it kills me,” she added.
Soon, the teacher was inviting her to meet up outside school. And, in one of those hangouts, which Jastine thought was just a friendly one, he insisted on holding her hand and stealing a kiss on her cheek. That’s when Jastine started to doubt, again, if he was worth holding on to.
Thinking…I was in love with him
Doubting whether her exchanges with Mr. Morales were normal was another girl from the philosophy class – Meulin*, who happened to be Jastine’s friend.
Morales had also charmed Meulin, then 16, when she was in a vulnerable state, having just lost her sibling.
Mr. Morales was there for her. At first they emailed about academics, but the exchanges soon became more personal, and then sexual, in nature. Looking back, Meulin thinks her grief over her sibling’s death affected how open she became to Morales.
“As my ‘relationship’ with him was ongoing, I will admit that I was responsive to him despite the inappropriate nature our conversations took a turn to. I even went so far as to thinking that I was in love with him, and that everything I allowed to happen was alright, if it was done for the sake of ‘love,’” Meulin told Rappler in an email.
Eventually, word got out that Morales was messaging numerous girls, not just Jastine and Meulin. When Jastine threatened to come forward, he manipulated her into pitying him. Later, he accused Jastine of the leak, and talked to her in a way that made her “feel stupid.” She caught herself apologizing to him.
Meanwhile, Meulin struggled to call Morales’ actions abusive, as she felt she had somewhat “consented” to his advances. When Meulin wanted to end the “relationship,” Morales “begged” her to stay, but still confused her by saying it was ultimately her choice.
“I justified that it was my fault – that he gave me a choice and that I should have just put my foot down if I wanted to leave him. But I’ve only lately realized that any decent adult wouldn’t have even given me the burden of choice,” said Meulin in the email, sent October 2020.
Jastine said she no longer saw him after the first semester of Grade 11 ended in October 2016. Morales resigned and made himself untraceable.
I felt disgusted with myself
Crystal was 17 – like Jastine – when she developed a “relationship” with her teacher, Mr. Duico*, in 2011. He was 34.
They talked every day, and conversations that started about school work became casual and extended past school hours. At the time, Crystal had a girlfriend, and Duico said he was particularly intrigued by how two girls “do things.”
After Crystal graduated and turned 18, Duico kept seeing her and told her he wasn’t happy with his fiancée.
“Whenever we went out, it would be in far away places or we would enter establishments one at a time. He liked to check first if he knew someone in that specific place before texting me to follow inside,” Crystal wrote in an email.
As Duico promised he would leave his fiancée for her, Crystal found herself going to his house and meeting with him in motels. At first she didn’t want to have sex with him, but, “Since I was already drawn to him, I felt that I needed to compete with his fiancée. I thought to myself, ‘If I’ll give him what he wants, maybe he would choose me.’”
After a few months, Crystal ended the relationship when she felt that he wasn’t going to go through with his promise.
When Crystal eventually met another man, Duico warned her against telling anybody about their past relationship, because people supposedly would not understand. And so she kept silent.
Duico eventually married his fiancée, but still saw Crystal from time to time when she became single again. “Tingnan mo, tinitigasan pa rin ako sa ’yo,” she quoted him as telling her. (Look, you’re still giving me a hard-on.)
It was only in her second relationship after Duico, in 2016, that she opened up about the affair. “As I told my story to Marco*, that’s the time I realized there was something wrong [all this time]. It’s as if the blindfold was taken off and I saw what happened. I was manipulated and abused. I was crying and felt disgusted with myself,” she said.
Grooming: Abuse in disguise
What Jastine, Meulin, and Crystal experienced with their high school teachers was neither friendship, love, nor an affair. It was grooming. The girls were victims, and Mr. Morales and Mr. Duico were predators.
There are several Philippine laws that protect people, especially children and students, against unwanted sexual advances.
The Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 defines sexual harassment as demands or requests for sexual favors by a person in authority in the workplace, school, or training environment.
The Safe Spaces Act of 2018 expands the definition to include perpetrators who aren’t necessarily persons of authority. The law also covers acts that may not be overtly sexual but are suggestive or have sexual undertones, said lawyer Juan Carlo Tejano of the Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal (SALIGAN).
The laws may fall short, however, when it comes to grooming or the process of a predator befriending his or her victim to gain the child’s confidence or trust – which was what the 3 STCQC girls went through.
In a 2016 psychology journal article, researchers found that, after a predator selects and gains access to a victim, developing trust becomes the central stage for grooming. Here, predators learn about the children’s interests, shower them with attention, and share secrets.
“These behaviors are used to give the child the impression there is a loving and exclusive relationship between [her] and the would-be offender. The perpetrator portrays himself as a non-threatening individual with whom the child can talk and spend time with,” the journal article reads.
Grooming can be done in “a million ways,” said Aurora de Dios of the Miriam College Women and Gender Institute. Young girls may not always be able to pick up signs of a teacher crossing a line because of a “lack of sexual education,” thus giving way to a failure to understand the social contexts of relationships.
According to lawyer Tejano, if the individual acts in grooming have nothing sexual or suggestive, there is a chance that they may not be covered by either the Safe Spaces Act or the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act.
“Strictly speaking, befriending per se is not punished under the law. However, this ‘process’ of befriending or grooming is likely a series or combination of acts, some of which may be considered sexual,” Tejano said in an email.
“The language used, tone of voice, or even some gestures can constitute advances that may be considered sexual. Under the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act, such advances may be punished if they create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment for the victim. The important perspective is the victim’s,” he added.
If the grooming eventually led to an actual sexual advance, the perpetrator would still be punished for the latter acts, the lawyer said.
By then, the damage would have already been done.
Left to pick up the pieces
For 9 years after Mr. Duico took advantage of her, Crystal dealt with “nightmares.”
“I began hating myself for being so naïve. I lost my confidence. I felt that I didn’t deserve having good things in life because of what happened to me. I began to question my own identity and values. I didn’t know how to pick myself up after realizing what happened. I began having nightmares about the teacher. I get anxious when I pass by the places we’ve been. I became easily triggered whenever I heard the teacher’s name,” she said.
In 2020, she gained the courage to talk publicly about her abuse. In July of that year, she filed a complaint with STCQC against Duico, who was still teaching. The following month, the school terminated Duico after finding him guilty of violating the anti-sexual harassment law, the teachers’ code of ethics, and the school’s policy against engaging in sex out of wedlock.
The STCQC administration declined an interview with Rappler about these specific cases, as well as other reports circulating on social media. Instead, they outlined their efforts to curb sexual harassment in school, such as the creation of a committee on decorum and investigation called the Student Care Council (SCC), which they said, was “fully compliant” with the Safe Spaces Act.
Crystal’s case was the first that the SCC handled and solved.
The SCC has since received and processed at least five cases of sexual harassment, where all respondents are male teachers. Three of the cases – including Crystal’s – have been resolved in favor of the complainants, as of February 28, 2021. Anonymous complaints have been submitted, according to the SCC website, and the administration is working with the alumni support group TASHA (Theresians Against Sexual Harassment and Abuse) in gathering more details to be able to pursue these.
Meanwhile, Rappler found that Morales got a new job at the Angeles University Foundation (AUF) in Pampanga, teaching religion to college students in the school year 2019-2020.
Roanne*, one of his students at AUF, said Morales told the class he was engaged and the wedding was happening soon, but that he would still message her. One time, she posted a photo of herself on Facebook Stories, and her teacher commented, “Huwag kang pa-fall (Don’t make me fall for you).”
She chose to ignore remarks like that by Morales until she realized he had employed this kind of approach with her classmates too.
“Religion pa ’ka mo ang subject niya, about sa God, pero ganyan siya,” she told Rappler over Facebook Messenger. (To think, he was teaching religion, about God, and yet he was like that.)
On January 15, 2021, AUF confirmed to Rappler in an email that Morales was “no longer connected” with the university. It was unclear whether he resigned or was terminated.
In February, Rappler learned that Morales is teaching in yet another university outside of Metro Manila. We sought comment from the school, but the request has yet to be approved. We will update this story once we hear from them.
Rappler attempted to contact Morales at his last known email address, which Jastine provided. We received no response, but the email didn’t bounce either. We sought to reach him through a current colleague, but he still hasn’t responded.
We also attempted to contact Duico through his wife’s social media account, informing her that we needed her husband’s comment about a sensitive matter from when he was still with STCQC. We have not received a response as of posting. This story will be updated once we hear from them.
(To be concluded: ‘This is how my school responded when my teacher harassed me‘) – Rappler.com
*Names have been changed.