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At Large

Justice for the girls

It all started with an exchange of “tweets” among graduates of a Catholic all-girls school where the young women claimed that during their high school years they had been sexually harassed or subjected to abusive behavior and language by male teachers. They reported that in some instances when one or two them were brave enough to report the incidents, the school administration would call an assembly where they were in effect “shamed” publicly and implicitly blamed for “inviting” the behavior.

The college administration later issued a statement saying they wanted “restorative justice” for both the complaining former students and the teachers, who had been dismissed from their posts or else had been transferred to another department.

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An alumna of the school, reflecting on the complaints, said her heart broke reading the tweets, adding: “Imagine being 14 or 15 years old and being subjected to that? Here you are a grade 8 or 9 student and what do you know about the world at that age? You trust, look up to, and are respectful of all those who have authority over you, believing that they have your best interest at heart… Young girls everywhere need to be taught how to speak up when they feel violated or are uncomfortable. But in that vulnerability lies great courage. It is always in shattering the silence, and speaking up that you set yourself free.”

Well, at least other students/alumnae in other Catholic all-girls’ schools chose to listen and believe the original complainants. They, too, have taken to social media to bare incidents of sexual harassment that had taken place in their institutions.

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Understandably, the school administrators were upset at the harsh light that was directed at them, arguing that the accused teachers’ side also deserved to be heard. Which is precisely why educational institutions need to put in place policies and procedures to protect their students and innocent faculty or other staff. But shouldn’t more protection be granted to the most vulnerable? Should shaming and guilt be the de facto reaction to complaints of sexual harassment in so-called bastions of decency and morality?

* * *

On March 31 next year, the country marks the 500th anniversary of the first Catholic Easter Mass celebrated on these islands. The occasion is important as it marks the Christianization of the Philippines, but the celebration is still under a cloud as doubts remain about where the first Mass was held.

Those who went through history class would readily declare that the First Mass was held on Limasawa Island in Leyte. The designation was based on the account of Antonio Pigafetta, the Italian chronicler of Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition in 1521. In his chronicles, Pigafetta referred to the venue of the first Mass as “Mazaua,” later interpreted to mean Limasawa in a footnote in the compilation of Philippine primary documents known as “Blair and Robertson,” considered by many to be the authoritative collection of primary documents on Philippine history. Still, doubts remain as a competing claim holds that the First Mass was held not in Limasawa in Leyte but in Butuan in Mindanao.

Sure to stoke further controversy is an upcoming book by amateur historian Potenciano “Bon” Malvar titled “Butuan Not Limasawa.” It took Malvar five years to complete his research on and writing of the book, taking him to different parts of the world such as Portugal, Spain, and the United States. He consulted documents that have to do with the Butuan claim, including the 1581 Ecclesiastical Edict of Bishop Domingo de Salazar, the Papal Edict of Pope Gregory in 1582, Gaspar de San Agustin’s “Conquistas de las Islas,” Pedro Chirino’s “Relación de las Islas,” and the Pigafetta manuscripts. Aside from reading and examining these documents, Malvar also paid personal visits to Homonhon, Limasawa, Malimono in Surigao del Norte, and Buod Masao.

Limasawa’s claim is largely based on the 1959 law, under the sponsorship of Congressman Nicanor Yñiguez of Southern Leyte, now known as Republic Act No. 2733 declaring Limasawa as the site of the first Easter Mass in the country. But Malvar says the law was passed without thorough research, with no hearings with the proponents of both sites, nor ocular visits conducted.

Malvar thus hopes that when March 21, 2021 comes round, authorities would have conducted studies and research, not just to put history to rights but also because “something wrong must be made right for truth to prevail.”

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TAGS: At Large, first Catholic Easter Mass, public shaming, Rina Jimenez-David, school sexual harassment
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