How should a student respond when he or she becomes the object of bullying?
Philippine Psychiatric Association spokesperson Dr. Babes Arcenas, in an interview with another paper, said that those who are bullied should stand their ground the first time the act of intimidation or harassment occurs: “The first time it is done, show that you can fight back. You have to show that you are in control because if they see you crying, they will think they have power over you. You should be able to tell them to leave you alone or you will report them to the authorities.”
Sound advice, except: How do you fight back when there is more than one bully before you? Or when you are in unfamiliar territory, without friends you can run to for help or teachers and persons of authority who can lend you protection? Worse, when the bullies, not content with the might of their numbers, are able to brandish arms right on campus—pepper spray, for instance, or knives and even guns?
Certainly, there was no way Joan Lourdes Reyes, 20, an information technology student of the University of Santo Tomas, could fight back against the sudden attack against her early this month. She had gone to the Far Eastern University campus to watch a film on a friend’s invitation. Later, in a corridor, she was approached by five coeds who first asked what she was doing there (she was wearing a UST Engineering shirt). “The next thing I knew, someone sprayed something at me,” Reyes said. “It stung my skin and eyes so much that I could not see and breathe. [Then] someone stabbed me in the stomach and another stabbed me in the back.”
Reyes suffered five stab wounds and had to undergo surgery to repair her small intestine. While FEU announced that it had identified and suspended one of the attackers, a nursing student who now also faces frustrated homicide charges, Reyes herself remains clueless about the motive for the assault. One theory being offered, which would be laughable if not for the gravity of the crime committed: UST and FEU are basketball rivals, with UST elbowing out FEU this year for a spot in the UAAP finals. If true, this represents a new and chilling low—collegiate sports rivalry gone homicidal (and not even among players, but crazed fans).
Two weeks after the FEU incident, Kevin Roy Castro, 21, another IT student, was wounded in a knife attack, this time at Adamson University. The culprits: at least four fellow Adamson students who, reports said, started bullying Castro while he was with a group of students waiting for their professor. One mundane minute instantly led to blood, terror and mayhem. Castro ended up with two stab wounds on his left arm. Again, the motive is yet unclear.
If college students can be victims of random violence, imagine how it must be for high school kids—someone like Cedric Ronquillo, 17, of Las Piñas East High School, who found himself being poked with a 9mm pistol last month by one Leandro Sarno Jr. and his companion, Justine Mejia, 18. The incident happened inside the school premises, where Sarno and Mejia should not have been allowed entry, at the very least, because they were not students of the school. That they managed to sneak in a gun on top of that speaks volumes about the state of security in the high school.
Then again, as in the most notorious case lately, even the upscale and exclusive Colegio San Agustin in Makati has been found wanting in the security department. Businessman Allan Bantiles was able to bring in a gun undetected right into the school’s receiving area, where he then pointed it at the head of high school student Jamie Garcia in retaliation for Garcia allegedly scuffling with Bantiles’ son. Garcia had earlier complained that Bantiles’ son Joshua had been bullying him endlessly (an allegation that seemed to make sense if one were to consider the father’s example).
What is going on? Students stabbing others in broad daylight, kids waving a pistol at other kids’ faces, or, more reprehensibly, a parent pulling a gun on a student, suggest a wider, graver, breakdown in the school environment. When the campus—that special social zone tasked to open the minds of the young and make them civil beings, where discourse and the back-and-forth of learning should operate unencumbered and free of the threat of violence for one’s own belief, personhood or, heck, sports affiliation—becomes lawless territory, we’re in bigger trouble than we think.