Schools should NOT have too much discretion on when to report or act on bullying incidents

Sen. Grace Poe said the bullying incident involving high school students has prompted the need to revisit the Anti-Bullying Act of 2013 to fill in some gaps as to the role of the schools in dealing with actual cases.

"Anyone who has seen the video of the violent bullying incident would understand that bullying is a despicable act that insults our humanity," she said.

"There is an Anti-Bullying law in place. However, we believe it should be strengthened to require concrete and timely action from schools," Poe, vice-chairperson of the Senate committee on public order, added.

The unfortunate incident should serve as a wake-up call for legislators to examine the law and plug the gaps to make it truly responsive to the problem of bullying.

Republic Act 10627 or the Anti-Bullying Act of 2013, signed by then President Benigno Aquino III, mandates all elementary and secondary schools to adopt policies to prevent and address the acts of bullying in their institutions.

The law defines bullying as "any severe or repeated use by one or more students of a written, verbal or electronic expression or a physical act or gesture or any combination thereof, directed at another student that has the effect of actually causing or placing the latter in reasonable fear of physical or emotional harm or damage to his property.

Poe stressed that the current law gives the school administrators too much discretion on when to act on the bullying case.

"It leaves it up to them to determine whether appropriate action can be taken," she explained.

Under the law's "Mechanisms to Address Bullying," it states that:

"If it is determined that bullying or retaliation has occurred, the school principal or the designated school officer or person shall:

(a) Notify the law enforcement agency if the school principal or designee believes that criminal charges under the Revised Penal Code may be pursued against the perpetrator;
(b) Take appropriate disciplinary administrative action;

(c) Notify the parents or guardians of the perpetrator; and

(d) Notify the parents or guardians of the victim regarding the action taken to prevent any further acts of bullying or retaliation."

"This is why in the current case, even with the numerous videos that have come out, police are saying that they have to wait for Ateneo to notify them and seek their help," Poe said.

"And, this is why the school administration is saying that it still has to determine if bullying has taken place," she added.

The senator said that one possible amendment to the law would require removing the section that gives total discretion to the school.

Poe noted the need for timely response to incidents of bullying.

"For example, anti-bullying committees should be formed, which shall act upon reports of bullying within thirty (30) days after the incident," she said, adding that a delayed reaction would be detrimental, as it allows the perpetrator to repeat the bullying act.

The members of the proposed body or committee that would look into the incident should not be related in any way to the parties involved, Poe said.

Furthermore, the alleged perpetrator must be required to take a leave of absence until the investigation is completed, she said.

Poe said she would soon file a resolution to hear out concerned stakeholders in a bid to review and amend the law.

SOURCE: POE: STRENGTHEN ANTI-BULLYING LAW. Senate of the Philippines. Press Release. December 23, 2018.