Education officials will investigate the mounting complaints of incidents of sexual harassment in Catholic schools in recent weeks, saying it has become a “disturbing” issue.
“I will personally help monitor this issue and you can count on the [Education department] to not tolerate this,” said Education Undersecretary Tonisito Umali.
He said the department will “make sure that a committee has been convened and that the investigation required have already commenced” in the schools.
In 2012, the Department of Education released a “Child Protection Policy” that requires all schools to develop a policy and guidelines to protect children from all forms of abuse, including sexual abuse.
Umali said that based on the policy those accused of sexual harassment should be summoned and be given a chance to explain.
“I’ll engage the [Education official] in charge of this and we will submit a report on the matter,” he said.
Albert Muyot of the non-government Save the Children Philippines said it is the duty of the Education department to ensure all schools are “conducive to the safe learning of children.”
“We are concerned that the cases posted in social media only show the tip of the iceberg as deprived and marginalized students may not have the voice and the platforms to express similar complaints,” said Muyot.
Several students and alumni of Catholic schools Miriam College and Ateneo de Manila University have earlier came out on social media to report alleged incidents of sexual harassment involving the schools’ faculty members.
On Monday, June 29, students and alumni of the University of Santo Tomas Senior High School also called for a “safe space” in the campus, demanding for the expulsion of a student who has been accused of being a “sexual predator.”
While the university has yet to release an official statement, the group UST Hiraya called on the university administration and other universities “to hold perpetrators accountable.”
“The university must remain a safe space to everyone and free from sexual offenders whether as students or those in authority,” read a statement release by the organization.
They said they “resist to normalize actions that clearly do not value human dignity” and “refuse for similar cases to be swept under the rug”.
In 2017, various groups slammed the university for allegedly “victim-blaming” after it sanctioned a female student who reported a fifth-year male student for harassment.
In 2018, the university was also criticized over a “lenient punishment” of a student found guilty of physical abuse.
The student was initially sentenced to community service and exclusion from solemn investiture rites as punishment, but was expelled after another complaint was filed.
In 2019, President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law the Safe Spaces Act, which took effect on August 3, 2019.
The law penalizes all forms of sexual harassment in streets and public spaces, as well as in online spaces. It also strengthens the administrative mechanisms against sexual harassment in workplaces and in educational and training institutions.
Another salient feature of the law is that it recognizes that sexual harassment may be committed even between peers, or by a student to a teacher, or a trainee to a trainer.
Data from the PNP Women and Children Protection Council show that sexual harassment is the 5th commonly reported incident related to Violence Against Women.