MANILA – Actor and filmmaker Jerom Canlas was used to seeing sexual abuses committed at the Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA) while growing up, he thought those acts were normal.
When he realized the wrongdoings, he and other victims did not dare complain for fear of losing their scholarships at the government-run secondary school at Mt. Makiling in Los Baños, Laguna.
“Kahit ako sa sarili ko parang parte lang ito [sexual abuse] bilang estudyante sa Makiling (I myself thought that the sexual abuse is part of being a student in Makiling),” Canlas said as he recalled his ordeal in high school before the Senate hearing of the Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality on Tuesday.
Canlas, 23, said that when he first made the abuses public via social media, several PHSA graduates reached out to him with similar horror tales from their mentors.
Senator Robinhood Padilla praised Canlas’ courage and encouraged other sexual harassment victims in schools, as well as their parents, to speak up.
"Tandaan natin, hindi ito magaan, mga bata ito. Bata ito. ‘Yan ang gusto ko ipa-intindi, bata ito. Bata ang mga biktima dito. Walang kamalay malay, anghel ang mga ito (Let us remember that this is a heavy subject to discuss because it involves children They are innocent)," Padilla said.
He said he will write Vice President and Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Sara Duterte to ensure that safe spaces in schools are being implemented.
The DepEd has ordered a probe into the allegations and tapped the assistance of the National Bureau of Investigation.
“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,” DepEd said in an official statement in June.
Senator Raffy Tulfo told PHSA Director Greg Zuniega to shape up and institute reforms.
In a circular to the PHSA community on July 25, the management said off-campus activities will be allowed if with parents' consent and with a school chaperone; teachers are constantly reminded to use child-friendly materials; there will be feedback mechanisms, like regular gatherings or chats with parents; strict curfew hours; and continuing education for students on safe spaces and other protocols. (With a report from Leonel Abasola/PNA)