Child rights advocates are urging the Philippine government to take action on alleged rampant abuse at a state-run arts boarding school, even as the school’s administrators downplay the allegations a week since VICE World News revealed them in an investigative report.
“For years, reports on sexual abuse, harassment, and other forms of violence committed against students – who are mostly minors – of the Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA) have surfaced, yet no comprehensive and decisive action on the part of the government has been done to address the issue,” the Child Rights Network, a coalition of advocates that includes UNICEF and the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights, said in a statement on Tuesday.
“This slapdash approach is enabling the continuation of these horrid abuses, which recently gained worldwide attention when an in-depth feature article was published by VICE World News last June 28,” the group continued.
More than a dozen past and current PHSA students spoke to VICE World News about a “culture of abuse” at the school, which allegedly included molestation, sexual harassment, and verbal abuse by staff and other students. Survivors say school authorities either mishandled or dismissed their allegations without proper investigation, with many speaking of the trauma they’ve been left to grapple with even years after their time at the school.
Child Rights Network said it was “appalled” by the allegations and the “apparent lack of accountability” for the abuses.
“The reported crimes against children are crimes of power, with power relations between teachers and house parents in the boarding school tilted against their victims,” the group said. “In most reported cases, victims are robbed of immediate recourse, and carry the unreported trauma way into adulthood.”
In a separate statement dated July 5, but posted on the PHSA Facebook page on Wednesday, the school said it was “unfortunate” to hear of the abuses endured by students.
“The PHSA Management sympathizes with our alumni who complained of past abuses,” the statement read. It added that a school representative has informed abuse survivors “to file complaints with the proper forum,” and that they are “welcome to file their complaints with the School’s designated committees.”
These statements echoed what the school leadership told VICE World News during interviews for the investigative report—that the school would only act on complaints formally filed with its investigation committee. This is despite a law in the Philippines ordering schools to initiate probes as soon as they are made aware of abuse allegations.
In its latest statement, the school said “the sweeping generalization, as shown in the articles portraying the PHSA as [a] haven for abuse, is unfair,” and that its personnel were working to provide students with “a safe learning environment.”
The school did not address a demand by its students, outlined in a letter sent to the faculty in January and cited in the VICE World News report, that administrators promptly initiate investigations into abuse allegations. Neither did it mention whether disciplinary action was underway against school administrator Alvin Miclat, whom several students accused of abuse in a group complaint—one which the faculty earlier told VICE World News it was “looking into.”
Some social media users called the school’s statement “dismissive” and “gravely wanting,” with one commenter saying it was “empty words without genuine acknowledgement of the issue.”
The Child Rights Network said the allegations in the VICE World News report “reveal cracks in the way PHSA – and possibly other educational institutions – implement child protection policies,” and that the failure to stop the abuses “clearly show that such mechanisms are being perfunctorily implemented, or in worse cases, totally set aside.”
The group urged action from several government agencies including the Department of Education, recently taken over by vice president and education secretary Sara Duterte. VICE World News sent Duterte several requests for comment, but has yet to receive a response.
Last week, following the release of the VICE World News investigation, Senator Risa Hontiveros said her office would cooperate with other agencies to bring justice for abuse survivors from the PHSA.
The school’s student-run publication also reissued the students’ demand letter and opened it to a public signature campaign to draw support. Signatures from past and present students have since quadrupled to 335, joined by 55 parents of PSHA students, while 360 individuals and 36 organizations from the general public have also signed.
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