Busting bullying


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bullying, Manila BulletinName-calling, constant teasing, kicking and other forms of physical abuse, and power tripping − these are just some of the “ordeals” that students usually go through when they enter school.

Believing that these “experiences” would make children stronger, adults often turn a blind eye on these incidents, thinking that the child would eventually cope with it. Sadly, this is not the case as the child abuse incidents continue to increase as years go by—especially inside the schools.

SAFE NO MORE?

Next to the home, the school is expected to be the second safest place for children. However, the latest data from the Department of Education (DepEd) indicates that schools may not be as safe as it used to be.

Based on a summary report of child abuse, bullying and sexual abuse cases released last Sept. 19, 80 percent or 1,165 out of 1,456 cases of child abuse for school year 2012-2013 are acts of bullying. The remaining 20 percent or 291 cases include other forms of child abuse including sexual abuse.

Schools in the National Capital Region (NCR) have the highest number of reported cases of abuse with 489 where 443 are cases of bullying. This is followed by the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) with 228 where 216 are bullying cases and Region VI with 134 where 114 are cases of bullying. Meanwhile, Region X has the least number of reported child abuse cases with only one case of bullying.

Education Secretary Armin Luistro admits that bullying is indeed a “real but silent problem” in schools. This, he says, is because children are not encouraged to speak up and when they do, adults—including parents, teachers and the school official—don’t really take the child’s experiences seriously.

“Pagdating sa bullying at iba pang kaso ng child abuse, hindi lahat ay inilalahad. Itinatago ito dahil sa tingin ng matatanda, hindi masyadong malaki ang impluwensiya sa buhay ng bata,” he says.

Luistro himself was a victim of abuse and up to now, he still feels its effects. First was in kindergarten by his teacher who caught him incessantly talking in class. The second time was in fourth grade.

“Kumuha siya ng scotch tape at inilagay sa bibig ko,” he recalls of kindergarten teacher. “Isa siya sa mga gurong hindi ko malilimutan at ‘yung trauma na nakuha ko sa aking pagkabata ay hindi pa din naalis sa aking isipan.”

For him, bullying is everywhere but it doesn’t mean that it cannot be solved.

“There is a bully in you and me. The solution will depend on how we address and overcome the bully in us, on how we allow the bullies around us to take advantage of us. It is important for us to stand up against bullying in schools. Enough is enough,” he says.

DEALING WITH BULLYING

According to DepEd Assistant Secretary for Legal and Legislative Affairs Tonisito Umali, the recorded cases of child abuse or acts against the children were committed either by a student to another student, teachers, non-teaching personnel or other adults.

To ensure that these cases are monitored, DepEd came out with the Child Protection Policy (CPP) and Guidelines that cover all public and private schools. It was developed by DepEd along with members of civil society groups, teacher groups, private and public school representatives, international agencies and other child protection advocates.

“Yung ibang cases na-resolba na at ‘yung iba, on-going ang investigation but rest assured that we are doing all that we need to do in order to resolve these cases of bullying,” Umali says.

DepEd’s CPP aims to observe and promote zero tolerance on any act of child abuse, exploitation, violence, discrimination, bullying and other forms of abuse in school. The guidelines, meanwhile, seek to protect the child from all forms of violence that may be inflicted by adults, persons of authority as well as their fellow students.

As stipulated in the guidelines, all public and private elementary and secondary schools should establish a Child Protection Committee (CPC) composed of school officials, teachers, parents, students, and a community representative. While the CPP is being “implemented very well” more than a year since it was launched, Umali admits that not all schools— around 38,000 public schools and more than 10,000 private schools nationwide—have already established their CPCs.

“But we are in the process of validating which schools have not yet established these CPCs,” he adds.

ADDING MORE TEETH

The signing of Republic Act (RA) 10627 or the “Anti-Bullying Act of 2013” by President Benigno Aquino III last September 12 is certainly a significant development that will boost DepEd’s campaign against it. The anti-bullying law protects students from bullying and other forms of violence that may be inflicted by adults, persons of authority as well as their fellow students.

“This is a landmark piece of legislation that further enhances the DepEd’s existing CPC which puts primacy on the well-being of children. It is a big boost in our continuing push to develop our schools into safe and caring, learner-centered institutions,” Umali says.

He also believes the timely law will give more teeth to the DepEd Order through the sanctions that may be imposed to non-compliant schools.

RA 10627 prohibits bullying in all schools by mandating all elementary and secondary schools to adopt policies that will address the existence of bullying in their respective institutions. The law specifically defined what constitutes the acts of bullying which cover “written, verbal or electronic expression, or a physical act or gesture, or any combination directed at another student that has the effect of actually causing or placing the latter in reasonable fear of physical or emotional harm.”

Umali says that the sanctions for the student bullies may range from reprimand to expulsion. They may also undergo a rehabilitation program with close supervision by a guidance counselor, municipal city or provincial social worker of the DSWD if necessary. Another salient feature of the law is the mandate for all schools to promulgate their own anti-bullying policy, within a given period of time and the sanctions DepEd can give to non-compliant schools. Section V of the RA 10627 states that: “All schools shall inform their respective schools division superintendents in writing about the anti-bullying policies formulated within six months from the effectivity of this Act.”

Compared to the DepEd Order, Umali explains that “the force of law is very, very strong.” The law now also mandates DepEd to come up with the mechanism on how to sanction the non-compliant schools, particularly private schools. Section 6 or the “Sanction for Noncompliance” of the RA 10627 states that “…the Secretary of the DepEd shall prescribe the appropriate administrative sanctions on school administrators who shall fail to comply with the requirements under this Act.” The law specifically states that “in addition thereto, erring private schools shall likewise suffer the penalty of suspension of their permits to operate.”

This mandate to sanction non-compliant schools would definitely help the DepEd implement effectively its CPC. While the sanctions will depend on the degree of violation, he warns erring schools that apart from suspending their permits to operate, DepEd may order to close them down.

“If there’s a school that ignores our orders for them to submit their anti-bullying policy despite the notice of submission or if there’s a school that ignores reported cases and complaints, siguro puwede ipasara ‘yang paaralan na iyan,” Umali explains.

NO LOOPHOLES?

According to Umali, DepEd is “very happy” with the provisions in the RA 10627 and finds “no loopholes” so far. If implemented properly, he says that the law may even be enough to help totally eradicate bullying in schools.

Senator Sonny Angara, one of the co-authors of the Anti-Bullying Act, proposes the creation of different penalties depending on the gravity of the bullying committed to ensure the effective implementation of the law. This proposal was among the provisions that were removed in the final version of the law.

The original version of the law also covered bullying in colleges. But this was also taken out in the final version.

Hence, Anti-Bullying Act co-author Congressman Rodel Batocabe of AKO Bicol Partylist urged universities and colleges to adopt anti-bullying policies in their institutions to protect the rights of their students.

Both solons also called on the DepEd to focus on the restorative function of counseling and rehabilitation programs to address the problem of bullying.

“The Anti-Bullying Act does not only focus on penalizing bullies but finding out the reasons for bullying as well. The law sees bullying as a symptom of a bigger problem. By having a school psychologist or guidance counselor talk to the “bully,” we can find and solve the root cause of bullying, thus eliminating the possibility of retaliation,” explains Angara.

Batocabe adds that it’s not enough for bullies to be simply sanctioned with disciplinary action, but must also undergo an effective counseling and healing program.

WHAT IT MEANS TO TEACHERS AND STUDENTS 

DepEd has 90 days to consult with stakeholders from other sectors, draft and finalize the regulations (IRR) before the anti-bullying law becomes effective.

The anti-bullying policy shall also apply to teachers and school officials.

“Under our DepEd Order, teachers who humiliate students face administrative sanctions from suspension to removal from service and forfeiture of benefits,” Umali warns.

Aside from peer to peer bullying, DepEd said that teachers sometimes commit acts of bullying through practices once considered “as appropriate and necessary for discipline such as scolding students in front of classmates and punishing misbehaving students by requiring them to stand and face the wall.”

The Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC) welcomed the RA 10627 saying that the law will help DepEd “to improve its policy on bullying.” TDC National Chairperson Benjo Basas says that the law “will give teachers and school officials a clear legal definition of bullying and a basis for procedure in handling bullying cases in school as well as mechanism of preventing it.”

However, Basas hopes that the law be implemented fairly with full protection for the bullied and the bully because both are in a vulnerable situation. He also reminds fellow teachers and parents that in some cases, mistreatment of the vulnerable children may subject them to bullying. As he offers TDC’s assistance in crafting the IRR, he hopes that “this law would make the school a happy place for our children.”

Meanwhile, private schools find the law a threat to their teachers.

“The anti bullying law takes away everything from the teachers,” says Federation of Associations of Private Schools and Administrators (FAPSA) president Eleazardo Kasilag.

Kasilag, along with the school administrators of some 10,000 private schools nationwide, says that the anti-bullying law “clips away” the authority of the teachers to discipline their students.

“There is no more initiative left with the teachers and HS students may just consider them helpless scarecrows,” he says. “Once the students realize the herculean privilege they enjoy, values education is compromised,” he adds.

Classroom management, says Kasilag, should entail a “little discipline” saying teachers could “hardly deliver the lessons if the [students] in jam-packed classrooms, [for instance,] are noisy.”

He says that students these days have become hard to discipline with the advent of technology, media’s influence among them and the lack of guidance they get from their homes. With the anti-bullying law in place, instilling discipline and values on them “would be a lot harder than it already is.”

In the eyes of a bully named “Jimmy,” the Anti-Bullying Law is just a piece of paper, something not to be scared of.

“Ano ba ang puwede nilang gawin sa akin, i-expel ako? Eh di lilipat lang ako ng school pero bago pa ako ma-expel, mahihirapan silang patunayan na nang-bully nga ako,” he ends. (With report by Rachel C. Barawid)

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