From the Manila Bulletin:
by Ina Hernando-Malipot
01 April 2012
|Photo courtesy of Gibby Gorres.|
MANILA, Philippines — Student leaders are calling on the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to monitor schools that may be violating students’ rights after a Catholic school in Cebu City barred four high school students from attending their graduation rites for allegedly posting “indecent” photos in Facebook.
The Student Council Alliance of the Philippines (SCAP), the biggest nationwide alliance of student councils and student political parties, said the CHR—the agency tasked by the Office of the President towards human rights protection and promotion—is in the “best position to police academic institutions” that violate the rights of their students.
“We urge CHR to review the student handbooks of these schools and see to it that school rules and regulations do not violate the rights of students and are in accordance with the law,” SCAP National Spokesperson JC Tejano said.
Tejano said the incident in St. Theresa’s College (STC) in Cebu City where the high school department did not allow its students to attend the graduation exercises last Friday prompted the group to call the CHR’s attention. “Although the court ordered that the said students be made to attend their graduation rights, the school administration refused to honor the issued order,” he said.
The school said the students violated provisions in the STC student handbook including a rule against “posing and uploading pictures on the Internet that entail ample body exposure.”
The students supposedly posted their photos wearing bikinis while holding a cigarette and liquor bottle in Facebook which allegedly violated STC’s rules on immorality, exposure online and smoking and drinking.
STC clarified the students will still be able to graduate since they were “academically qualified.”
SCAP National Secretary General Gibby Torres added that in another incident involving another Catholic school, six boys at the Infant Jesus Academy in Marikina City were not allowed to join the graduation rites because of “kissing” photos on the same social networking site.
“Both incidents can be tagged as an impingement on the personal and private affairs of the students,” said Torres. He added that the incidents are but two of the many instances wherein schools violate students’ rights.
“Our group regularly receives reports from students of various schools presenting similar dilemmas,” he said.
Earlier, SCAP had condemned the move of the schools involved, particularly of STC, saying that it “violated the students’ rights to freedom of expression and speech and several provisions in the Magna Carta for Women by causing psychological and emotional trauma.”
The group also maintained that Catholic academic institutions sanction their students unfairly under the guise of academic freedom. Tejano said that while schools may practice academic freedom, “it should not be used as an excuse to control students in this manner.”
“Academic freedom has limits,” Tejano said. “The students’ personal space, which includes social networking sites such as Facebook, should not be governed by any school policy.”
Tejano added that while it is the responsibility of the schools to instill in their students core values “this role does not give them a license to punish students for what is in the realm of parental guidance.”
He reiterated that the constitutional rights of the students should prevail over student handbooks. “Students’ rights are human rights and human rights are inviolable,” Tejano said. “Not a single student handbook across the country has the power over the rights bestowed on any individual guaranteed by the Constitution.”
SCAP urged legislators to pass a national legislation to protect students’ rights. “A bill protecting students is long overdue. We need to make sure that this generation is afforded with an environment for learning by securing their rights, within or without the campus,” Torres said.
Several versions of students’ rights bills are pending in Congress.