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  • My Daughter Was Bullied by Her High School Teacher Who Described Her as 'Walang Kwenta'

    "We saw our daughter deteriorate from the abuse, and with it, the entire family's peace of mind."
    by Walter Villa .
To read this story in Tagalog, click here.
  • The author shared it took him a while to write this piece because "we were very angry." He says his daughter is doing better now than a year ago.
    PHOTO BY iStock

    Parenting can be a lonely job. What helps is having a community who cheers and listens without judgment. And that's what our "Real Parenting" section is for: a space where parents can share the joys, pain and the mess that is parenthood. 

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    My daughter was bullied to submission and depression by one of her teachers in one of the top science high schools in Manila.

    Almost every day from August 2016 to March 2017, the abuse came in the form of hurling insulting words and demeaning phrases like "walang kwentang presidente," which pertained to her alleged inadequacies as the class president. 

    The worst experience of public humiliation she suffered was during clearance day when the teacher told her, in front of other parents, that she should not run as class officer anymore because she was "walang kwenta."

    Every time my daughter "failed" on mundane things like forgetting the key to the homeroom, a classmate failed to show up for a report, or there was a discarded Christmas decor on the floor, my daughter received humiliation and abuse.

    She hid the abuse from us because she did not know it was wrong. She did not know whom to report it to, and most of all, she feared retaliation.

    Who was she to question the teaching style of the most senior teacher in the faculty? She heard the teacher was influential and had a clique assigned in every grade level.

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    She kept it to herself and suffered in silence. But, as the abuses piled up week after week, my daughter became reclusive, angry, and eventually, succumbed to depression.

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    Where was our daughter?

    It was in January of 2018 when my wife and I found out about the abuse from a child psychologist. Around this time, my daughter's behavior had become worse. Every school day, but especially on a Monday, she would refuse to get up from the bed. She would spend close to an hour inside the bathroom, and there were times when my wife would forcefully open the door. She'd find our daughter staring blankly at nothingness.

    Nothing got through her — our parental advice, words of encouragement, gestures of affection and kindness. Eventually, the talk would crescendo into an argument, then into a shouting match between her and my wife, then me and soon, the whole household. Every weekday morning, all of us would be emotionally-drained before leaving for work and school at 6 a.m.

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    We had a tug-of-war every morning, a new family battle with a slight difference in intensity — equally draining, equally ugly.

    On weekends, my daughter would usually wake up by 5 or 6 p.m. to eat breakfast, dinner or both. My wife and I enjoyed this stillness and quiet. We thought our daughter was taking a well-deserved break from school. After dinner, she'd go up, bury her face in the comfort of her smartphone and social media until sleep leads her to Monday morning when the weekday morning routine begins anew.

    What happened to the young, promising girl who read a 300-page book in one sitting and discussed the plot excitingly with us over a plateful of takoyaki? Where was the girl who topped her class, won inter-school writing and oratorical contests, the girl who has a deep, genuine passion for learning?

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    The school did not support my daughter

    From August 2016 to January 2018, we saw our daughter deteriorate, and with it, the entire family's peace of mind. By then, we were desperately searching for answers and would do anything to save our daughter.

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    I knew the school-initiated investigation was heading nowhere when the principal herded my daughter's former classmates and asked questions that totally veered away from the issue: "Was my daughter doing self-harm?" "Did they see my daughter coming to class with bruises or scars?"

    The school never asked the students the critical questions such as "Did the teacher say cuss words in class? Or did she address my daughter as 'walang kwentang presidente?'" That would have established the abuse or impropriety right away.

    Instead, the school protected the teacher by steering the issue from the teacher's abuse to my daughter's depression through delay and misdirection. By mid-February 2018, my daughter refused to come to class: her anxiety was growing and getting worrisome.

    Even her psychologist dissuaded her from going to school, saying that the trauma arising from being put in the spotlight in her school would be worse than the trauma she got from the public humiliation by her teacher.

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    We decided to take action

    I wrote to DepED and asked for intercession and consideration for my daughter. We asked that she be allowed to refrain from coming to class and finish her academic requirements at home until her final exams on the first week of March 2018. Around this time, I had been asking around for potential witnesses to my daughter's abuse, and while two or three kids were willing to write an affidavit to corroborate my daughter's claims, their parents would not let them. I understood, and I told my daughter not to bear any resentment.

    I knew that this was a fight we will have to do alone.

    To validate our psychologist's initial findings of depression stemming from abuse, we had our daughter undergo a rigid three-week psychiatric evaluation by the NBI's Behavioral Science Team. If my daughter were lying, they would know.

    By May 2018, the results were out and the NBI, through its Violence Against Women and Children office, filed the case with the Prosecutor's Office, which found probable cause. It recommended filing a charge against the teacher for violating Section 10 of Republic Act 7610 (Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act).

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    Last October 22, 2018, the trial court judge found probable cause and issued a warrant of arrest for the teacher, who posted an Php80,000 bail a day later, but with pending motion for reconsideration. We learned she "retired" last August. But checking with the DepEd legal team revealed she did not file her retirement yet. It was more likely that she has gone AWOL.

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    A quest for justice

    To be fair, the teacher was willing to make a public apology in front of the students and faculty about the abuse, but the principal prevented her from doing so. If the apologyhappened, it might not have come to this messy legal battle.

    People have been asking me why I had to resort to filing administrative and criminal charges against the teacher, which completely jeopardized my daughter's scholarship. 

    We pressed charges because my daughter wanted her teacher punished to the full extent of the law, and second, we wanted to send a strong message to the school administration, the faculty, the students, and most especially to the parents, that BULLYING is NOT OKAY.

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    Kids do not have to endure abusive teachers in exchange for free education or anything else whatsoever.

    This culture must stop and should not be tolerated, and the process of education against bullying should begin in the school.

    This was a school that retaliated against my daughter. She received three marks below 85 (a failing mark in a science high school) for the final grading period in March. The teachers cited her lack of class participation for important projects, even though we had a signed letter from DepEd approving our request that she study at home. It was the school's way of showing us the exit door.

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    Depression is not a mood swing

    What's next for a victim of bullying and grave abuse? We start from scratch, pick up the broken pieces, and try to mend these together with renewed love and much deeper understanding as a family.

    The struggle of a person with mental depression and people around her is real, harsh, and gritty. It's disheartening to see a once confident girl, now cowering in a cocoon of uncertainty.

    In her new private Catholic school, my daughter was marked as a threat by a group of students vying for top honors and was shamed and bullied in social media because of her mental depression, beliefs, ideas, and passion. We had to step in and forward my daughter's NBI's psychiatric evaluation to the principal to put a stop on this cyberbullying.

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    Kids, under the veil of online identities, can be ruthless, too. Words are cheap, and the most hurtful ones are flayed without consideration or remorse. There are so many misconceptions about depression that we are just coming to grips with only lately. But you will be appalled how even those in the academe know nothing about it.

    Depression is not a mood swing that you can turn on and off. Depression is not the opposite of happiness, as what my daughter's psychologist would emphasize. The opposite of depression is VITALITY, or the state of being strong and active, ALIVE or full of LIFE.

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    A need to educate bystanders 

    When my daughter was in science high school, the PTA was actively doing fund-raising for a new printer, an LED TV screen, or a laptop for the class. But why not focus the efforts in finding a legitimate guidance counselor who genuinely cares for the welfare of the kids? These kids — the brightest minds, the best graduates from various elementary schools all over the country — have no support system for incidences like this.

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    Cathy Sanchez Babao writes that there are three people involved in the bullying equation: the bully, the bullied and the bystander.

    "At the moment when the bullying takes place, the bystander is key because he or she has to report what is going on immediately. However, it is not that the bystander is apathetic when he or she just stands by and watches, often he is scared for his own life too, and not empowered by the knowledge that he can, in that very moment change things."

    Bullying thrives not just because of the bully, it's because the bystanders chose to look the other way.

    Please speak out about bullying in any form, not just in or within school grounds, but outside its walls too. Nobel Peace Prize-winning author Elie Wiesel once said, "I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever humans endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormenter, never the tormented."

    Walter Villa, a former content producer, now heads the training arm of a leading e-commerce company.

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