Thursday, October 18, 2012

PARENTAL GUIDANCE IS A MUST: On Special Parental Authority

By Siesta-friendly

Last month, when 2 “students of the Cebu International School … drowned while swimming near a waterfall during a class field trip in Bataan”[1], we were made to contemplate again the responsibility of people who have “supervision, instruction or custody” over minors and these people’s liability for the acts of others (not necessarily minors) over whom they have responsibility.

The provisions regarding the Special Parental Authority of schools over minors over whom they have responsibility are in the Family Code -

 “Art. 218. The school, its administrators and teachers, or the individual, entity or institution engaged in child are shall have special parental authority and responsibility over the minor child care while under their supervision, instruction or custody.
                                     
Authority and responsibility shall apply to all authorized activities whether inside or outside the premises of the school, entity or institution.

Art. 219. Those given the authority and responsibility under the preceding Article shall be principally and solidarily liable for damages caused by the acts or omissions of the unemancipated minor. The parents, judicial guardians or the persons exercising substitute parental authority over said minor shall be subsidiarily liable.

The respective liabilities of those referred to in the preceding paragraph shall not apply if it is proved that they exercised the proper diligence required under the particular circumstances…”  (The Family Code of the Philippines[2]

Related to these provisions are Articles 2176 and 2180 of the Civil Code on one’s liability for the acts of persons for whom one is responsible[3]  - 

“Article 2176. Whoever by act or omission causes damage to another, there being fault or negligence, is obliged to pay for the damage done. Such fault or negligence, if there is no pre-existing contractual relation between the parties, is called a quasi-delict and is governed by the provisions of this Chapter.

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Article 2180. The obligation imposed by article 2176 is demandable not only for one's own acts or omissions, but also for those of persons for whom one is responsible.

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Lastly, teachers or heads of establishments of arts and trades shall be liable for damages caused by their pupils and students or apprentices, so long as they remain in their custody.

The responsibility treated of in this article shall cease when the persons herein mentioned prove that they observed all the diligence of a good father of a family to prevent damage.”

Article 2180 above refers to the liability of teachers or heads of establishments of arts and trades to be in loco parentis or in the place of a parent.  As an aside, in Amadora, et al. vs Court Of Appeals, et al. the Supreme Court held that as regards the term teachers or heads of establishments of arts and trades, “teachers in general shall be liable for the acts of their students except where the school is technical in nature, in which case it is the head thereof who shall be answerable”.[4]

Going back to the main topic, after reading about the 2 Cebu International School students drowning during a school field trip, we feel compelled to tackle some cases where the Supreme Court found a school and/or teacher responsible and liable for their student’s death or injury.

Cases where the school or teachers were found at fault

For a student’s drowning


“On March 10, 2000, the class president, wrote a letter to the grade school principal requesting permission to hold a year-end celebration at the school grounds. The principal authorized the activity and allowed the pupils to use the swimming pool. In this connection, [Class Adviser Corazon P. Taguiam] distributed the parent’s/guardian’s permit forms to the pupils.

[Taguiam] admitted that Chiara Mae Federico’s permit form was unsigned. Nevertheless, she concluded that Chiara Mae was allowed by her mother to join the activity since her mother personally brought her to the school with her packed lunch and swimsuit.

Before the activity started, respondent warned the pupils who did not know how to swim to avoid the deeper area. However, while the pupils were swimming, two of them sneaked out. [Taguiam] went after them to verify where they were going.

Unfortunately, while [Taguiam] was away, Chiara Mae drowned. When [Taguiam] returned, the maintenance man was already administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Chiara Mae. She was still alive when [Taguiam] rushed her to the General Malvar Hospital where she was pronounced dead on arrival.

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As a teacher who stands in loco parentis to her pupils, [Taguiam] should have made sure that the children were protected from all harm while in her company.  [Taguiam] should have known that leaving the pupils in the swimming pool area all by themselves may result in an accident.  A simple reminder “not to go to the deepest part of the pool” was insufficient to cast away all the serious dangers that the situation presented to the children, especially when [Taguiam] knew that Chiara Mae cannot swim. Dismally, [Taguiam] created an unsafe situation which exposed the lives of all the pupils concerned to real danger.  This is a clear violation not only of the trust and confidence reposed on her by the parents of the pupils but of the school itself.

Finally, we note that based on the criminal complaint filed by Chiara Mae’s parents, the Assistant City Prosecutor found probable cause to indict respondent for the crime of reckless imprudence resulting in homicide.  The Assistant City Prosecutor held that [Taguiam] “should have foreseen the danger lurking in the waters.”  By leaving her pupils in the swimming pool, [Taguiam] displayed an “inexcusable lack of foresight and precaution.”  While this finding is not controlling for purposes of the instant case, this only supports our conclusion that [Taguiam] has indeed been grossly negligent.”

For a student’s death in an excavation site


“In 1963, [Mariano Soriano] was the principal of the Gabaldon Primary School, a public educational institution located in Tayug, Pangasinan. [Edgardo Aquino] was a teacher therein.

At that time, the school was littered with several concrete blocks which were remnants of the old school shop that was destroyed in World War II. Realizing that the huge stones were serious hazards to the schoolchildren, another teacher by the name of Sergio Banez started burying them one by one as early as 1962. In fact, he was able to bury ten of these blocks all by himself.

Deciding to help his colleague, [Aquino] gathered eighteen of his male pupils, aged ten to eleven, after class dismissal on October 7, 1963. Being their teacher-in-charge, he ordered them to dig beside a one-ton concrete block in order to make a hole wherein the stone can be buried. The work was left unfinished. The following day, also after classes, [Aquino] called four of the original eighteen pupils to continue the digging. These four pupils — Reynaldo Alonso, Francisco Alcantara, Ismael Abaga and Novelito Ylarde, dug until the excavation was one meter and forty centimeters deep. At this point, [Aquino] alone continued digging while the pupils remained inside the pit throwing out the loose soil that was brought about by the digging.

When the depth was right enough to accommodate the concrete block, [Aquino] and his four pupils got out of the hole. Then, [Aquino]left the children to level the loose soil around the open hole while he went to see Banez who was about thirty meters away. [Aquino] wanted to borrow from Banez the key to the school workroom where he could get some rope. Before leaving, [Aquino]allegedly told the children "not to touch the stone."

A few minutes after [Aquino]left, three of the four kids, Alonso, Alcantara and Ylarde, playfully jumped into the pit. Then, without any warning at all, the remaining Abaga jumped on top of the concrete block causing it to slide down towards the opening. Alonso and Alcantara were able to scramble out of the excavation on time but unfortunately fo Ylarde, the concrete block caught him before he could get out, pinning him to the wall in a standing position. As a result thereof, Ylarde [sustained injuries].

Three days later, Novelito Ylarde died.” He was only 10 years old.

In awarding the boy’s parents indemnity for his death plus moral and exemplary damages, the Supreme held that Aquino “acted with fault and gross negligence when he: (1) failed to avail himself of services of adult manual laborers and instead utilized his pupils aged ten to eleven to make an excavation near the one-ton concrete stone which he knew to be a very hazardous task; (2) required the children to remain inside the pit even after they had finished digging, knowing that the huge block was lying nearby and could be easily pushed or kicked aside by any pupil who by chance may go to the perilous area; (3) ordered them to level the soil around the excavation when it was so apparent that the huge stone was at the brink of falling; (4) went to a place where he would not be able to check on the children's safety; and (5) left the children close to the excavation, an obviously attractive nuisance.”

For a student’s injury during a class science experiment


“On November 17, 1994, at around 1:30 in the afternoon inside St. Joseph College’s [SJC’s] premises, the class to which [respondent Jayson Val Miranda] belonged was conducting a science experiment about fusion of sulphur powder and iron fillings under the tutelage of [petitioner] Rosalinda Tabugo, she being the subject teacher and employee of [petitioner] SJC. The adviser of [Jayson’s] class is x x x Estefania Abdan.

Tabugo left her class while it was doing the experiment without having adequately secured it from any untoward incident or occurrence. In the middle of the experiment, [Jayson], who was the assistant leader of one of the class groups, checked the result of the experiment by looking into the test tube with magnifying glass. The test tube was being held by one of his group mates who moved it close and towards the eye of [Jayson]. At that instance, the compound in the test tube spurted out and several particles of which hit [Jayson’s] eye and the different parts of the bodies of some of his group mates. As a result thereof, [Jayson’s] eyes were chemically burned, particularly his left eye, for which he had to undergo surgery and had to spend for his medication. …

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The school authorities alleged that [“b]efore the science experiment was conducted, [Jayson] and his classmates were given strict instructions to follow the written procedure for the experiment and not to look into the test tube until the heated compound had cooled off. [Jayson], however, a person of sufficient age and discretion and completely capable of understanding the English language and the instructions of his teacher, without waiting for the heated compound to cool off, as required in the written procedure for the experiment and as repeatedly explained by the teacher, violated such instructions and took a magnifying glass and looked at the compound, which at that moment spurted out of the test tube, a small particle hitting one of [Jayson’s] eyes.”

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In awarding Jason actual and moral damages, attorney’s fees and the cost of the suit, the Supreme Court found that the school and the teacher acted with negligence and failed to exercise the requisite degree of care and caution as “demonstrated by the following: 1. [the] school did not take affirmative steps to avert damage and injury to its students although it had full information on the nature of dangerous science experiments conducted by the students during class; 2. [the] school did not install safety measures to protect the students who conduct experiments in class;  3. [the] school did not provide protective gears and devices, specifically goggles, to shield students from expected risks and dangers; and 4. [the teacher] was not inside the classroom the whole time her class conducted the experiment, specifically, when the accident involving Jayson occurred. In any event, the size of the class—fifty (50) students— conducting the experiment is difficult to monitor. Moreover, the school and the teacher cannot simply deflect their negligence and liability by insisting that [the teacher] gave specific instructions to her science class not to look directly into the heated compound...”

Schools, administrators and teachers should not take lightly the special responsibility they have for the students under their care. They are not only responsible for their students’ lessons but their lives as well, i.e., theirs students’ safety, security and well-being.  As can be seen in the cases and their tragic consequences, there may be no second chances, and mistakes made and lessons learned may prove just too costly.



[1]  2 students drown in bataan field trip. (2012, September 13). Retrieved from http://www.sunstar.com.ph/breaking-news/2012/09/13/2-students-drown-bataan-field-trip-242574

[2]  Executive Order No. 209,  July 6, 1987.

[3]  Republic Act No. 386, June 18, 1949.
[4]  G.R. No. L-47745 April 15, 1988
[5]  School Of The Holy Spirit Of Quezon City vs. Corazon P. Taguiam, G.R. No. 165565, July 14, 2008.

[6]  Federico Ylarde, et al vs.Edgardo Aquino, et al, G.R. No. L-33722 July 29, 1988

[7]  St. Joseph’s College, et al. ,vs. Jayson Miranda, G.R. No. 182353,   June 29, 2010.

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