The Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA) has issued an official statement promising to provide a safe learning environment for its students after news reports surfaced online detailing sexual abuse of students happening within its premises.
On June 28, Vice News, a news organization based in New York, published an in-depth article containing accounts from PHSA students about the school's decades-old culture of sexual, verbal and emotional abuse of students from fellow senior students and faculty members.
Vice News wrote that students would report the different kinds of abuses to the faculty, but their complaints were often disregarded. The school also demands a bureaucratic process of documentation and notarization before the allegations could be investigated.
In its statement published on July 6, PHSA responded to the allegations in the article, PHSA said they provide a safe learning environmen both online and onsite in the Makiling campus in Los Banos, Laguna.
"It is unfortunate that in articles recently released by Vice News in social media, some of our alumni spoke about abuses they experienced while being students. The PHSA Management sympathizes with our alumni who complained of past abuses," it wrote.
The specialized public high school located in Laguna said that the aggrieved students have already been informed to file complaints in the proper forum and told them to be rest assured as the school has its own processes "duly recognized by the Civil Service Commission, Commission on Human Rights, the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the Department of Education."
PHSA, however, said it is unfair to generalize every member of the school as having committed abusive actions.
"As felt by many of our alumni, teachers, and staff, some of whom have worked at PHSA for more than 20 years, the sweeping generalization, as shown in the articles portraying PHSA as haven for abuse, is unfair. The PHSA, just like any other institution, is not perfect," it wrote.
The school assured that school personnel are working together to provide students a safe learning environment in both online and face-to-face setup, sharing that even before the pandemic, the school was already implementing strict curfew hours and prohibited students from rehearsing and doing group activities after curfew.
"Our teaching and non-teaching personnel are here to give you support and give a listening ear to your concerns. Through the PTSC (Parent Teacher and Student Committee), we closely coordinate with your parents to ensure your safety and well-being," PHSA wrote.
VICE World News’ exclusive report detailing the incidents of sexual, verbal and emotional abuse at PHSA has sparked outrage online among students, lawmakers and various groups.
“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 stated 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.”
Nakapanlulumo. Bilang may- akda ng Safe Spaces Act, handa kaming makipagtulungan para mabigyang hustisya ang bawat bata na nabiktima ng karahasang ito. The law covers any abuse or harassment committed in schools. Hindi pwedeng palagpasin ito.https://t.co/navYbyqB9X— risa hontiveros (@risahontiveros) June 29, 2022
PHSA Variations, the official student publication of the school, likewise reiterated the Safe Spaces Demands passed by the PHSA student body in January earlier this year and called for signatories from the general public to amplify these calls.
READ: Variations' official response (slide 1) to the PHSA's July 1 statement (slide 2) pic.twitter.com/5mZdgHRnA4— PHSA Variations (@phsa_variations) July 5, 2022
Meanwhile, the Child Rights Network (CRN), an alliance of organizations and agencies pushing for children's rights and advocacies, said in their own statement that they are condemning the government's lack of a decisive action on reports of sexual abuses among the PHSA students.
"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," CRN wrote
"This slapdash approach is enabling the continuation of these horrid abuses. [C]hild rights advocates under the banner of Child Rights Network (CRN) are beyond appalled at the content of the VICE report, especially with the apparent lack of accountability against perpetrators of these crimes against children," it added.
CRN urged the government to speed up the investigations, execute comprehensive actions, and ensure that no student would be subjected to sexual abuse and harassment again.