The Anti-Bullying Act of 2013 (R.A. 10627) was just signed into law last month. The title of the Act “An Act Requiring All Elementary And Secondary Schools To Adopt Policies To Prevent And Address The Acts Of Bullying In Their Institutions” is telling in that anti-bullying is legally proscribed only at the elementary and secondary levels.
Anyway, the definition of bullying under the Act seems to be all-encompassing, covering physical and emotional harm, and including in its scope bullying via written, verbal or electronic means.
Bullying is defined 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; creating a hostile environment at school for the other student; infringing on the rights of the other student at school; or materially and substantially disrupting the education process or the orderly operation of a school; such as, but not limited to, the following:
a. Any unwanted physical contact between the bully and the victim like punching, pushing, shoving, kicking, slapping, tickling, headlocks, inflicting school pranks, teasing, fighting and the use of available objects as weapons;
b. Any act that causes damage to a victim’s psyche and/or emotional well-being;
c. Any slanderous statement or accusation that causes the victim undue emotional distress like directing foul language or profanity at the target, name-calling, tormenting and commenting negatively on victim’s looks, clothes and body; and
d. Cyber-bullying or any bullying done through the use of technology or any electronic means. (Sec. 2)
Required Anti-Bullying Policies
Of course, the Act doesn’t stop at defining the prohibited acts but also requires schools to “adopt policies to address the existence of bullying in their respective institutions. Such policies shall be regularly updated and, at a minimum, shall include provisions which:
(a) Prohibit the following acts:
(1) Bullying on school grounds; property immediately adjacent to school grounds; at school-sponsored or school-related activities, functions or programs whether on or off school grounds; at school bus stops; on school buses or other vehicles owned, leased or used by a school; or through the use of technology or an electronic device owned, leased or used by a school;
(2) Bullying at a location, activity, function or program that is not school-related and through the use of technology or an electronic device that is not owned, leased or used by a school if the act or acts in question create a hostile environment at school for the victim, infringe on the rights of the victim at school, or materially and substantially disrupt the education process or the orderly operation of a school; and
(3) Retaliation against a person who reports bullying, who provides information during an investigation of bullying, or who is a witness to or has reliable information about bullying;
(b) Identify the range of disciplinary administrative actions that may be taken against a perpetrator for bullying or retaliation which shall be commensurate with the nature and gravity of the offense: Provided, That, in addition to the disciplinary sanctions imposed upon a perpetrator of bullying or retaliation, he/she shall also be required to undergo a rehabilitation program which shall be administered by the institution concerned. The parents of the said perpetrator shall be encouraged by the said institution to join the rehabilitation program;
(c) Establish clear procedures and strategies for:
(1) Reporting acts of bullying or retaliation;
(2) Responding promptly to and investigating reports of bullying or retaliation;
(3) Restoring a sense of safety for a victim and assessing the student’s need for protection;
(4) Protecting from bullying or retaliation of a person who reports acts of bullying, provides information during an investigation of bullying, or is witness to or has reliable information about an act of bullying; and
(5) Providing counseling or referral to appropriate services for perpetrators, victims and appropriate family members of said students;
(d) Enable students to anonymously report bullying or retaliation: Provided, however, That no disciplinary administrative action shall be taken against a perpetrator solely on the basis of an anonymous report;
(e) Subject a student who knowingly makes a false accusation of bullying to disciplinary administrative action;
(f) Educate students on the dynamics of bullying, the anti-bullying policies of the school as well as the mechanisms of such school for the anonymous reporting of acts of bullying or retaliation;
(g) Educate parents and guardians about the dynamics of bullying, the anti-bullying policies of the school and how parents and guardians can provide support and reinforce such policies at home; and
(h) Maintain a public record of relevant information and statistics on acts of bullying or retaliation in school: Provided, That the names of students who committed acts of bullying or retaliation shall be strictly confidential and only made available to the school administration, teachers directly responsible for the said students and parents or guardians of students who are or have been victims of acts of bullying or retaliation.” (Sec. 3)
Implementation of Anti-Bullying Policies
So how is the actual act of bullying addressed? Here’s the procedure:
“Any member of the school administration, student, parent or volunteer shall immediately report any instance of bullying or act of retaliation witnessed, or that has come to one’s attention, to the school principal or school officer or person so designated by the principal to handle such issues, or both. Upon receipt of such a report, the school principal or the designated school officer or person shall promptly investigate. 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.
If an incident of bullying or retaliation involves students from more than one school, the school first informed of the bullying or retaliation shall promptly notify the appropriate administrator of the other school so that both may take appropriate action.” (Sec. 4)
All elementary and secondary schools shall provide students and their parents or guardians a copy of the anti-bullying policies being adopted by the school. Such policies shall likewise be included in the school’s student and/or employee handbook and shall be conspicuously posted on the school walls and website, if there is any. (Sec. 3)
All schools shall inform their respective schools division superintendents in writing about the anti-bullying policies formulated within six (6) months from the effectivity of the Act. Such notification shall likewise be an administrative requirement prior to the operation of new schools. (Sec. 5)
Beginning with the school year after the effectivity of the Act, and every first week of the start of the school year thereafter, schools shall submit a report to their respective schools division superintendents all relevant information and statistics on acts of bullying or retaliation. The schools division superintendents shall compile these data and report the same to the Secretary of the DepED who shall likewise formally transmit a comprehensive report to the Committee on Basic Education of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. (Sec. 5)
The Department of Education (DepED) shall include in its training programs, courses or activities which shall provide opportunities for school administrators, teachers and other employees to develop their knowledge and skills in preventing or responding to any bullying act. (Sec. 3)
Penalties for Noncompliance
Unfortunately, the law has left it to the Secretary of the DepED “to prescribe the appropriate administrative sanctions on school administrators who shall fail to comply with the requirements under this Act.” The only possible penalty under the law is that “erring private schools shall likewise suffer the penalty of suspension of their permits to operate.” (Sec. 6)
Merriam-Webster defines a bully as one who frightens, threatens or insults another or one who treats another abusively. Bullies are everywhere, not just in the elementary and secondary levels. Despite the scope of the Act being limited to only the elementary and secondary levels, we hope other school levels – and even government and corporate entities - can be inspired, influenced and guided by this Act so they may set the appropriate policies and procedures to prevent, address, and punish bullies.
Apart from bullies, we should also look out for their enablers like parents who tolerate or allow their children to bully others, or parents who defend their children’s bullying. Remember the father who reportedly slapped, threatened and poked a gun at a high school senior bullied by his own son (inside the Colegio de San Agustins Head Teacher’s Office no less).
It is strikingly sad and necessary that the State has to step in to make children behave humanely as parents fail in making sure they do. But bullying has devastating (even fatal) effects that we cannot be dependent on the weakness of families for failing to rear their children in fostering even a basic human value like respect.