‘Students are scared to come forward’ — Alumni detail abuse, harassment at PHSA

Bianca Dava, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 14 2022 09:21 AM

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MANILA – The Philippine High School for the Arts in Laguna houses the country’s budding writers, musicians, visual artists, and performers.

But it is also in this state-run boarding school where many of them have allegedly experienced abuse and harassment.

Twenty-three-year-old actor and director Jerom Canlas entered the school as a theater arts major in 2011.

On his second year at school, he and his classmates began holding rehearsals at their teacher’s house in Quezon City, which was far from the confines of the PHSA.

They would sleep at their teacher’s house when rehearsals finished late.

“He was unable to go up the mountain; he was busy with his professional life,” Canlas told ABS-CBN News.

“Hindi lang ako mag-isa and we had full trust in the teacher kasi parang older brother turing namin sa kanya, mentor. Every time I slept there, maglalatag siya ng mattress sa floor, magkakatabi kaming matutulog. Kapag katabi ko siya, automatic na yayakap siya, may mga paghaplos. Ako naman, hindi ko naisip ‘yun as malicious kasi very close siya sa students, pero subconsciously, naisip na rin ng utak ko na may mali kasi naglalagay ako ng pillow sa gitna ng legs ko.

"May attempts na may gawin pa siya, ilalagay niya hands niya sa loob ng shirt ko. Fortunately, for me, hindi na nagescalate into anything further. Unfortunately, for others, may mas malala pang cases,” he recalled.

Cultural worker Amihan Ruiz entered the school also as a theater arts major in 2002 when she was only 12 years old.

She shared that there was a house parent who was notorious for playing with female students’ bra straps.

Ruiz personally had a bad experience with the house parent, too.

“Madalas, every other day, kapag tumatambay ang mga kaklase kong babae at ako sa guard house, may laro si ... na gaganunin niya ang likod namin at matatanggal ang bra namin. Mabilis ‘yun. Hindi mo mapapansin, bigla na lang siyang dadaan at tatawa siya sa gilid,” she said.

“Sinubukan niya ‘yun gawin sa akin. Nataranta ako, sumampa ako sa bangko at diniin ko ang likod ko sa pader at sabi ko, ‘Huwag! Ano ba?!’ Sabi niya, ‘Ang OA nito, mahirap ‘to. Baliw.’ Simula nun, ‘yun na ang bansag sa akin. Tinawag akong war freak, OA,” she added.

From being a house parent, the staff member was promoted in 2018, and until now, still works at the school.

“Nakakagulantang na nagtatrabaho pa rin siya doon despite na nasasaksihan siya—hindi ko alam kung nirereport—ng mga guard, guidance counselor, nurse, teacher, faculty, cafeteria staff, lahat,” Ruiz said. “Hindi siya dahil sa kakulangan ng pagreport… pero nasasaksihan siya at malinaw na kwento sa maraming henerasyon. Doon tumataas ang balahibo ko."

Former students like Canlas and Ruiz also experienced mental, verbal and emotional abuse at the PHSA.

“Madaling magkaroon ng abuses mentally and emotionally sa students, even teachers, admin personnel, merong ganong instances, hindi lang sa major ko, pero sa ibang majors. May mga paninigaw, emotional manipulation, gaslighting. Maliban pa dun, there’s also sexual misconduct and harassment happening at PHSA,” Canlas said.

“Hindi ko makalimutan, 2004. Meron kaming seniors’ thesis. May play sila. Isa sa props namin ay balisong. Binili ‘yun sa Los Banos at binigay kay ... para papurulan. Isang beses, sa same guard house na iyon, I was 14. Nakashorts ako. Nakaupo ako, tapos hinagis ni ... ang balisong, nakatarak ang balisong sa kahoy sa tabi ng hita ko. Sabi niya, ‘Legs mo sayang,'” Ruiz said.

“At that time, hindi ko naramdaman na mali ‘yun at dapat akong magsumbong. Marami kaming teacher na medyo ganun din ang ginagawa. Napakanormal lang na pagtangkaan ka, takutin ka,” she added.

Thinking this was normal and necessary for their formation as artists, the two did not file complaints.

But even though some of their classmates did, most of the complaints were swept under the rug, they said.

“That’s the biggest problem. Students are scared to come forward or, at least man lang, wala nang point magcome forward because alam lang na walang magagawa ang school o wala silang gagawin. Kapag student ka at menor de edad, iisipin mo ano ang iisipin ng ibang tao, paano ang career ko? May mga pangarap din ang mga bata. Ikikick out ba ako, bababaan ba ang grades ko? Maraming instances na kapag nagreport sa school, ireresolve lang within them, wala nang filing, magsosorry lang ang abuser para matapos na,” Canlas said.
 
“Hindi sumagi sa isip ko. Kanino kami magsusumbong, eh kay ... kami nagsusumbong? Kanino ko isusumbong ang pinagsusumbungan namin? Sa experience ko, 2002-2006, may nagrereport, meron naman. Kapwa estudyante may gulo, nagoverstay sa dorm, umaaksyon naman ang council. May meeting, pinapaakyat ang magulang. Pero parang pili. Piling pili lang ang aaksyunan,” Ruiz said.

The PHSA management, in a statement released on July 5, insisted that it has “internal mechanisms” to address complaints of abuse and harassment.

But for Canlas, seeking accountability is what should be done first and foremost.

He also said the school must improve its guidance counseling and psychosocial support system.

“Paghuhugas kamay lang ang ginagawa nila the past few weeks, the past statements. Ang hinihingi lang ng students, even earlier this year… na may gawin kayong aksyon at pag-usapan natin ito, pero hindi nila ginagawa iyon. Evident sa statement na walang nangyaring pang-aabuso raw, na okay na dahil nagvirtual naman daw ngayon. Para ideny ang allegations, sampal ‘yun sa amin, sa akin lalo na. Parang diniscredit ang experience naming lahat,” Canlas said..

“Hangga’t walang systemic change at walang mekanismo para maayos ang sitwasyon ng eskwelahan, pagsunod sa Safe Spaces Act, walang mangyayari.”

Canlas urged the school to have accountability. 

"Hangga’t hindi iaacknowledge ng eskwelahan at administration na nangyayari siya, walang mangyayari. Pangalawa, palakasin ang guidance system at psychosocial staff. For the longest time, walang matinong guidance counselor at psychologist dun. Importante na may matatakbuhan at ang students feel safe to talk to them," he said.

For Ruiz, it is high time to relocate the campus from a secluded community to a more accessible place.

More importantly, with face-to-face classes set to resume soon, the PHSA management must ensure that the place students call their “second home” will be a place where they won’t have to fear for their safety, she added.

“Kung maaari lang sana, ang campus ng PHA ay hindi na sa bundok, sobra siyang isolated. Isolation breeds contempt, mga bagay na nahihiwalay sa mundo, maraming nakakalusot. For the safety of everyone, not just the children, para mas relevant ang experience ng mga batang nag-aaral ng sining, sana ang campus nila nasa mas mainstream na lugar,” she said.

Ruiz learned nothing was worth the abuse she suffered.

“Scholarship, grades, pride ng magulang, leading role, nothing. Bagay na katumbas ng pagmamalabis sa iyo. Kung kaya kong kausapin ang 12-year-old self ko, ang gusto kong matutunan ng bawat bata, kapag masakit, tama na. Ganun lang. Pag masakit, kuwestyunin mo na. Tinuro sa atin lagi na magtiis. The more na masakit, the more na gagaling ka. Kailangan na talagang baguhin ‘yun," she said.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has begun looking into reports of abuses and harassment at the PHSA, following the Department of Education's request.

The DepEd is also conducting its own investigation.

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