Widespread Campus Bullying Alarms DepEd

MANILA, Philippines --- The Department of Education (DepEd) has intensified efforts to protect students in the wake of reports of widespread cases of bullying in both public and private schools.

The latest case of campus bullying happened at the Las Piñas East High School in Barangay Pamplona, Las Piñas City last Friday.

Chief Superintendent Benito Estipona, Southern Police District (SPD) director, identified the suspects as Leandro Sarno Jr., 24, single, jobless, of 21A Jasmin St., Doña Manuela Subdivision, Las Piñas; and Justine Mejia, 18, a student, of Block 8, Lot 8, Mark St., Doña Manuela Subdivision.

Estipona said the suspects are now facing charges of illegal possession of firearm, grave threats, and physical injuries in relation to Republic Act 7610 or the Special Protection of Children against Abuse, Exploitation, and Discrimination Act after Sarno poked his 9mm pistol on Cedric Ronquillo, 17, at 12:40 p.m. Friday inside the Las Piñas East High School.

Ronquillo managed to seek help from a patrolling police officer while Sarno tried to escape on board a motorcycle driven by his cohort Mejia. But the policeman captured the duo before they could flee.

Another recent bullying victim was Jaime Garcia, a senior high student at the Colegio de San Agustin in Makati City.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) has already revoked the firearms licenses of Allan Bantiles, the suspect who allegedly poked his gun at Garcia.

Amid the reported incidents of bullying, Education Secretary Armin Luistro yesterday reiterated that the Department of Education (DepEd) continues to monitor violence against students inside the campus through the implementation of its Child Protection Policy (CPC).

"It's a good thing that we already launched the CPC because sa mga ganitong cases ng bullying, di lamang dapat paisa-isa na pagtingin kundi dapat pangkalahatan kasi magiging paulit-ulit," Luistro said.

Based on the CPC, prohibited acts include child abuse, discrimination against children, child exploitation, violence against children in school, corporal punishment; any analogous or similar acts; and bullying or peer abuse.

The CPC DepEd's "Policies and Guidelines on Protecting Children in School from Abuse, Violence, Exploitation, Discrimination, Bullying and Other Forms" was launched last May. "The policy guidelines have listed down the specific acts that constitute child abuse and violence which public and private schools can use as a guide in addressing this silent but very real social problem," Luistro explained. "The guidelines aim to protect the child from all forms of violence that may be inflicted by adults, persons of authority as well as their fellow students, including bullying," he added.

Currently, Luistro DepEd is focused on promoting positive ways to protect children inside the school. Luistro said that there are many cases of violence against students, particularly those committed by a student against a fellow student such as bullying in schools. However, he admitted that there are few cases reported to them because students and even parents do not report these incidents of violence in the schools.

"This is why we continue to urge schools, students, and parents to report to us cases of violence in schools particularly bullying because recognizing that this is happening is one of the ways to address this problem," Luistro said. Cases of violence against students are usually reported to the Office of Undersecretary for Legal and Legislative Affairs to ensure that proper monitoring and investigation would be conducted.

Data from DepEd showed that as of August, 2010 to May, 2012, a total of 112 cases of child abuse and related complaints have been referred to Central Office. Topping the list is the National Capital Region (NCR) with 59; Region 4A with 22; Region VII with 5; Regions I, III and IX with 4; Region IV- with 3; Region XII with 2; CAR, VI, X, XI, and XIII with 1. Region V received no complaint of bullying.

In an earlier interview, Undersecretary for Legal and Legislative Affairs Albert Muyot said investigation might still be ongoing for most of these cases, while the others have already been settled at the school level. When it comes to teacher-involved violence, Muyot reminded that administrative and even criminal charges can be filed against them if they are found guilty of violating the provisions of the law and the Civil Service Code.

Luistro said that bullying or violence in school in general is not just a problem inside the school.

Philippine Psychiatric Association spokesperson Dr. Babes Arcenas said bullying should be addressed the first time it occurs to let the bully know that he does not have power over the one that he or she is bullying.

Arcenas said bullying is encouraged and intensified when the bully receives the message that he or she can repeat the act as if the perpetrator is in control of the situation.

"The first time it is done, show that you can fight back. You have to show that you are in control because if they see you crying, they will think they have power over you. You should be able to tell them to leave you alone or you will report them to the authorities," Arcenas said in a phone interview.

Among women, the most common form of bullying that they receive attacks on the emotions such as gossip. On men, it often involves physical harm.

Bullying.org lists down other forms of bullying such as Verbal (name-calling), Physical, Social (leaving someone out of a game or group on purpose), Extortion (stealing someone's money or toys) and Cyberbullying or bullying via the Internet, mobile phones and others.

"Bullies come in all shapes and sizes and ages. Anyone can be a bully - even you. Kids usually become bullies because they are unhappy inside for some reason or don't know how to get along with other kids," the online resource said.

According to Arcenas, bullying is considered a problem in behavior often caused by familial problems and sometimes, psychological problems.

"The problem sometimes lies in the family itself. If you provide love and attention to the kids, then they know they are in a safe place. If they don't get it inside the home, they will try to get attention or love somewhere else."

The targets of bullies are often the ones who are "alone" and those who appear to be nerdy, small in stature or those who are perceived as weak in personality. Victims often suffer from anxiety and may develop low self-esteem or lost of self-confidence.

"If the bullying is addressed and intervention is given early on, there is hope that it would stop. The one being bullied should talk about it to his or her parents and to school authorities," Arcenas said. (With reports from Ellson A. Quismorio and Jenny L. Manongdo)