Students of a premiere national boarding high school for artists took to the public their demand for safety on campus, following VICE World News’ exclusive report on a decades-old culture of sexual, verbal and emotional abuse at the Philippine High School for the Arts.
Lawmakers also called for the government-run school to be held accountable for failing to properly investigate numerous accounts of abuse current and former students allege they endured at the hands of teachers and staff, and which the report found to have been mostly ignored by the school authorities.
“Appalling. As the author of the Safe Spaces Act, we are ready to cooperate in order to give justice to every child who has been victimized by this violence,” Senator Risa Hontiveros wrote in a tweet, referring to the law that punishes sexual abuse in public places. “The law covers any abuse or harassment committed in schools. We cannot let this pass.”
“Monsters. I will question their budget,” newly elected congresswoman Rowena Guanzon commented on a Facebook post sharing the report. The Philippines is going into budget season in the coming months, during which lawmakers scrutinize government institutions before finalizing funding for the succeeding year.
In separate posts on Facebook and Twitter, Variations, the student-run newspaper of the Philippine High School for the Arts, opened today a public signature campaign to support students’ demands for safe spaces when they return to the boarding school in August following two years of distance learning due to the pandemic. The campus is a two-hour drive south of the capital Manila.
“In light of the recent article released by VICE World News, PHSA Variations would like to reiterate the Safe Spaces Demands passed by the PHSA student body in January earlier this year. We would also like to call for signatories from the general public in order to amplify these calls,” the posts read.
In January, some 89 current students and 79 alumni signed a letter demanding that the faculty ensure the campus would be safe from abuse, particularly sexual abuse. This came following an outpouring of stories of abuse shared by students on social media, triggered by the death of a teacher in November.
In the letter, the students demanded investigations of alleged abuses, new policies to prevent new abuse, consultations on the forming of such policies, disciplinary action against abusers, and for the faculty to be more receptive to students’ complaints of abuse. However, during previous interviews with VICE World News, the faculty downplayed abuse allegations and dismissed the students’ concerns as “unnecessary.” It added, however, that it would look into allegations that are formally filed with its investigation committee.
VICE World News sought new comments from the PHSA leadership in light of the published investigation, but they did not immediately respond. They have not issued a statement on the report.
On social media, many users expressed outrage over the alleged abuses and the school’s apparent inaction. “Revolting. Heartbreaking. The school authorities should be held responsible,” said one Twitter user.
“Accountability. Change in the culture. End the system of abuse. A safe space for the kids. Now,” said a Facebook user who shared a VICE World News video of an abuse survivor from the PHSA.
“We stand in solidarity with the students and alumni of the Philippine High School for the Arts in calling for justice for survivors of sexual violence,” a university-based group of survivors and advocates against sexual abuse said in a tweet.
“The school must hold perpetrators and enablers accountable. To the survivors: we uphold your truth, and your pursuit of healing.”
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