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September 24, 2013

Legislating the Bully

Republic Act No. 10627 or the Anti-Bullying Act of 2012 has recently been signed into law. This is welcome news.

Bullying is a daily reality faced by thousands of children across the country.

bullyingLast year, a 7-year old boy named Joshua Veloso fatally drowned in Lapu-Lapu City when, while walking home from school, he was allegedly chased into the sea and stoned with coconut husks by bullies not much older than he was. Joshua was only in first grade.

In a 2009 study commissioned by children’s rights advocacy group, PLAN Philippines, across 58 public schools in Masbate, Northern Samar and, the Camotes Islands in Cebu; it was found that out of 2,442 children, at least 5 out of 10 children in Grades 1 to 3, 7 out of 10 in Grades 4 to 6, and 6 out of 10 in high school, have experienced some kind of violence in school―whether physical, verbal, or any other kind of abuse.

According to the 2006 United Nations World Report on Violence Against Children, “No violence against children is justifiable. All violence against children is preventable”. Schools have been identified as one of the venues where children are most at risk of violence. Bullying is mainly the culprit for this statistic. While many of us have experienced bullying in one form or another as school children, most of us eventually grow out of it and live through it. Not everyone, however, is as fortunate. Think of little Joshua Veloso who, had he not been bullied so severely, would have lived to see his eighth birthday this year.

Under the Anti-Bullying Act of 2012, 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”.

Acts of bullying include unwanted physical contact such as punching, pushing, shoving, kicking, slapping, tickling, headlocks, inflicting school pranks, teasing, fighting, and the use of available objects as weapons. It may also include any act that causes damage to the victim’s well-being and any slanderous statement that causes emotional distress such as foul language, name-calling, tormenting, and negative comments on another person’s looks, clothes, and body. Cyber-bullying is also prohibited under the law.

At first glance, the Anti-Bullying Act of 2012 appears comprehensive in scope. A closer look, however, would reveal that the law is more a piece of policy legislation than it is a punitive measure. Unlike most special laws that seek to stamp out criminality by imposing harsh penalties against the perpetrator, there are no direct sanctions against the bully or the bully’s parents under the Anti-Bullying law. Instead, schools are simply directed to “adopt policies to address the existence of bullying”. It is up to the schools to “identify the range of disciplinary administrative actions that may be taken against a perpetrator for bullying or retaliation”.

I suppose the deliberate limitation on criminal liability under the Anti-Bullying law is understandable. After all, under Republic Act No. 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2004, minors 15 years old and below are exempt from criminal liability. The prevalence of crimes committed by minors (often at the coaxing of adults) since the passage of this law is a testament to the utter failure of this piece of legislation. But let us save that discussion for another day.

bullying2In the final analysis, there is really only so much that the State can do as far as preventing bullying in schools. After all, a child’s propensity towards verbal or physical violence against another is not so much the product of a lack of laws as it is a reflection of one’s family and community environment. Indeed, what does it mean to a child for there to be a law against bullying when he sees that even grown-ups themselves bully each other on a daily basis? Whether it is in government, politics, business, tri-media or even social media, bullies of the worst kind thrive and often prevail. Unless and until adults lead by example and treat each other with mutual respect, compassion and a sense of fairness, there is simply no way to legislate the attitude and personality with which our children conduct themselves in school.

Now if only an Anti-Bullying Act specifically directed at adults could be signed into law, too. At the rate things are going now, I wouldn’t bet on it. At least not anytime soon.


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