Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA) Harassment and abuse allegations

Tucked away in an idyllic enclave on Mount Makiling, a two-hour drive south of the capital Manila, is the Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA)—an elite state-run boarding school that provides highly-coveted scholarships to the crème de la crème of the country’s young artists.

Nothing short of a mountain hideaway, the campus consists of quaintly designed halls and dormitories surrounded by lush rainforest and often shrouded in mist due to its high altitude. The setting affords the inspiration and solitude the school’s founders believed to be ideal for arts education, and the PHSA has indeed produced some of the Philippines’ finest writers, performers, musicians, and visual artists since it opened in 1977.

Committed to protecting the welfare of all learners, the Department of Education (DepEd) has sought the immediate assistance of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to investigate the reports of emotional, verbal, and sexual abuse allegations in the Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA) in Los Baños, Laguna.

In a letter duly received by the NBI on July 11, 2022, Vice President and Secretary of Education Sara Z. Duterte has requested the investigation body to provide a comprehensive report on the issue as soon as possible.

Likewise, the Department has also tapped its Child Protection Unit (CPU) and Child Rights in Education Desk (CREDe) to conduct a similar investigation in relation with the agency’s Child Protection Policy. PHSA has also informed the Department that they are examining the current and prior information on the matter.

Concerns and complaints concerning such abuses in PHSA are encouraged to be submitted to the school’s Committee on Decorum and Investigation for proper and further actions.

The Department and PHSA Administration are currently reviewing the school’s existing policies and strengthening its internal mechanisms to ensure the safety of the students inside the premises of the institution.

The Department would like to reiterate that the agency does not tolerate abuses in any form. Under the strong leadership of Secretary Sara Duterte, DepEd will continuously promote a healthy and safe environment for our learners and teachers.

Amid allegations of cases of sexual, verbal, and emotional abuse at the Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA), its administrators on Wednesday said it was “unfair” to portray the state-run school as a “haven for abuse.”

In an in-depth report of Vice World News on June 28, PHSA alumni spoke about being abused either by teachers, personnel or a fellow student at the state-run public high school for gifted young artists located at Mt. Makiling, Laguna.

One claimed he was molested by a senior student and a teacher while another said a current employee had harassed her and was continuing to victimize other students.

Quoting a well-placed source, Vice World News reported that the school had “consistently downplayed and ignored numerous allegations.”

Not perfect

Reacting to the article, the PHSA management said that like other institutions, it was not perfect.

But please be assured all our school personnel are working hand-in-hand toward providing our students a safe learning environment, whether online or in Makiling,” it said, adding that it was working on the improvement of their safety and well-being.

It also said that it “sympathized” with alumni who had complained of past abuses, and gave assurance that the school had approaches recognized by the Civil Service Commission, Commission on Human Rights, and Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) to deal with disciplinary matters should the victims decide to file complaints.

Child rights advocates have called on the Department of Education (DepEd) and CCP to immediately act on the matter, saying that these agencies “should not be aiding and abetting” the sexual abuse of students.

No gov’t action

For years, reports on sexual abuse, harassment and other forms of violence committed against students — who are mostly minors — of the 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 (CRN) said in a statement on Wednesday.

Schools should be safe spaces, not places where abuse and harassment thrive,” it said.

The CRN underscored that while all schools had mechanisms on reporting protocols and sanctions, the PHSA’s “repeated failure” to end the cycle of violence “clearly shows that such mechanisms are being perfunctorily implemented, or in worse cases, totally set aside.”

We gently remind not only the offenders but also the PHSA administration, DepEd, and CCP: These heinous acts violate landmark laws that were legislated to protect our children,” it said.

While the DepEd has yet to officially comment on the issue, it informed reporters that it had reached out to PHSA.

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