SENATOR Ana Theresia “Risa” N. Hontiveros-Baraquel has called for a probe on alleged abuses at the state-run Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA) and by extension, look into whether schools are complying with the law on safe spaces.
The resolution directs the Senate Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality Committee, which she will likely chair, to conduct an inquiry in aid of legislation on reports of gender-based sexual harassment, emotional abuse and other violence experienced by alumni and students of the PHSA.
The committee was also called to investigate possible violations of the Safe Spaces Act, determine the lapses, and propose corresponding reforms to improve the implementation of the law as well as other child protection policies.
“It is imperative that the Senate, exercising its oversight powers, initiate a thorough but expeditious investigation on the matter to ensure that PHSA and other educational institutions are safe spaces, especially with the upcoming blended or face-to face-classes in August,” the senator said in a statement on Wednesday.
The office of Ms. Hontiveros met with some alumni of the school who claimed complaints sent were “downplayed by the PHSA administration, brushed off as hearsay and were not entertained for failing to comply with the format required under existing Civil Service rules.”
Instead, they were allegedly victim-blamed, silenced, and neglected by the PHSA administrators, she said.
Under the Safe Spaces Act, schools are required to provide a gender-sensitive environment and confidential mechanism for the reporting and redress of grievances on matters of sexual and gender-based harassment.
“If the accounts are accurate, the repeated failure of PHSA administration to address the violence and abuses is a blatant violation of the Safe Spaces Act and a flagrant disregard of the interests of PHSA students — interests they are duty bound to protect and promote as persons reposed with special parental authority,” Ms. Hontiveros said.
PHSA is a boarding school in Los Baños, Laguna that provides secondary education with a special curriculum on the arts.
Ms. Hontiveros also cited the “urgent need to review the reporting protocols and the procedures of the Committee on Decorum and Investigation of the educational institutions tasked to investigate and address complaints of abuse and harassment.”
The Education department on Tuesday asked the National Bureau of Investigation to conduct its own probe on the alleged sexual abuse and harassment of students at the PHSA.
The department is also doing its own investigation through its Child Protection Unit and Child Rights in Education Desk.
Allegations of various forms of abuses at the specialized school for budding artists were reported in an in-depth feature article published by VICE World News, which included testimonies from alumni who detailed their own experiences.
The state-owned institution called VICE‘s portrayal “unfair” and denied accusations that it is a “haven for abuse.” — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan