Local execs express alarm over bullying in Tagum Catholic school
TAGUM CITY, Davao del Norte — Local officials in this city expressed alarm over the bullying case inside a Catholic-run school last week even as school authorities announced meting out preventive actions against the alleged offenders.
Councilor Leo Revita said he had received messages from parents and relatives of some of the victims who feared for the safety of their kin victimized in the incident.
“They are afraid because those responsible are reportedly from influential families,” Revita said. “Let’s not turn a deaf ear on this,” he added.
A five-member panel of the Saint Mary’s College of Tagum Inc. (SMCTI) is now investigating the case and recommended a 30-day preventive suspension of seven alleged perpetrators of violence against five fellow senior high school students, said Erwin Sabornido, SMTCI data privacy officer and institutional discipline coordinator.
The victims’ families were also urged to file a formal complaint to help the school investigating body in its decision-making, Sabornido said.
During Monday’s session of the Tagum city council, Sabornido told councilors he was shocked upon learning about the incident on social media on Friday last week, a day after it happened.
Sabornido said their initial investigation revealed that the mauling of five Grade 11 students was perpetrated by seven Grade 12 students, two of whom were aged 18 and the rest between 16 to 17.
Based on the accounts of those involved, the assault happened in the second and third floors of the school’s senior high school building on Thursday last week, during a performance task for students of the ABM (accountancy, business, and management) strand of senior high school.
“One of the offenders allegedly got irked when one of the victims gave him a stare-down as he and several companions stood at the door in one of the rooms to watch an ongoing ABM presentation,” Sabornido told the council.
The offenders then pulled the first victim out of the class, brought him to the hallway leading to the comfort rooms and punched him several times.
After this, the first victim was let go, and the alleged ringleader went to see his elder brother at the school library.
Fifteen minutes later, the ringleader, his brother and five others went to the second floor and started taking the four other victims one by one, who were hit and punched one after the other, Sabornido recounted.
“The punching and slapping only stopped after the would-be sixth victim alerted a teacher,” Sabornido said.
Eight other students, including a girl in Grade 9, were within earshot of the incident but did not see the mauling, the SMCTI disciplinarian said.
On Monday, five of the suspects accompanied by their parents met with the investigating panel and gave their side of the story. The two main alleged offenders did not show up, however.
“They are also traumatized. That’s according to their representative,” Sabornido said.
He said the offenders had owned the series of assaults, which happened as teachers and other school officials were having a meeting within the campus.
Sabornido said the offenders and the victims had reportedly figured in previous altercations outside of the campus before the May 4 incident.
Councilor Bryan Kim Angoy, himself an SMCTI alumnus, said he was alarmed by the apparent brazenness of the assault, as the offenders had the audacity to pick the victims one by one and beat them up.
Sabornido declined to give details as to the students’ names and personal circumstances.
He also did not confirm or deny the supposed video of the assault that was earlier circulating on social media.
To prevent the situation from escalating, he said the school had advised the victims not to attend classes with the assurance that their remaining school activities and “academic deliverables” would not be jeopardized.
“Our principal has come up with a modality for that matter so that all the students involved can still submit their performance tasks,” Sabornido said, adding he has coordinated with the school’s guidance counselor “for an immediate and expedited confidential guidance counselling sessions to both victims and alleged perpetrators.”
Sabornido said the incident saddened the school even as he vowed the institution was doing its best to strengthen anti-bullying efforts to prevent a repeat.
He also appealed to the victims’ parents to give them time and allow due process to take its course so as to be fair to everyone involved.
“I respect what the parents are feeling now. We’re not yet finished in our investigation, we’re still at the initial stage,” Sabornido said.
He said they had initial findings but the school could not impose the penalty yet as “they have yet to meet the two groups together.”
“It seems to us they (victims’ parents) are dictating the due process aspect of the institution,” Sabornido lamented. “I respect their opinion, and hope they will also trust the school’s processes,” he added. “Rest assured we are fair in our dealings.”
He said a representative from the Department of Education visited the school on Monday and secured necessary documents related to the issue.
Councilor Meliton Lemos said while the school’s investigation was on-going, the victims and their families could file criminal complaints at the police or the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).
“Whatever the outcome of the investigation by the school is different and distinct from the criminal aspect so we urge the public who want to file the case to show up,” Lemos said.
Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Latayada, acting Tagum City police chief, said his office had yet to receive a formal complaint from the victims or their families, even as he confirmed that a complainant had the incident recorded on police blotter on Friday.
The council is planning to invite all parties involved in a closed, executive session.
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