Hail to thee | Inquirer Opinion
Method To Madness

Hail to thee

In March of this year, five high school seniors were banned from marching in the graduation rites of St. Theresa’s College, Cebu for “engaging in immoral, indecent, obscene or lewd acts.” The indecency, it was later explained, included photos of the girls wearing bikinis posted on the social network site Facebook. The outrage over what appeared to be overreaction on the part of the school forced it to defend itself.

“It’s not about teenagers wearing bikinis in the poolside,” the school said in a statement. “It’s wearing skimpy clothing, acting suggestively, provocatively and sexually.”


It would be a waste of time to argue that bikinis are skimpy and swimming demands swimsuits. The girls, who were with parents celebrating a birthday party at the beach, were asked to apologize to the school and participate in a one-day retreat, punishment that the parents accepted. The school also demanded that the children absent themselves from the graduation ceremonies, and claimed it was being “merciful” by allowing the girls to graduate in spite of “revolting” behavior. It was this last demand that led one family to file a case against the school at the Cebu Regional Trial Court, asking for the law to intervene in what parents have called grievous humiliation. The family’s lawyer, Enrique Lacerna, said the girl was not given due process when she was given notice last March.

The court of Judge Wilfredo Navarro ruled in favor of the students. “I will have my own standards on whether or not it is lewd,” he said. In an act of what Navarro called “buffoonery,” the school ignored the restraining order, barred the gates against the parents and their children, and ordered its guards to stand against even the sheriff of the court.


In the most ridiculous twist to what is becoming an issue of the state of national morality, St. Theresa’s College filed criminal charges against three parents and a guardian for child abuse. They claimed the parents were guilty for “failing to supervise their minor children/ward” and allowing their daughters to “lead an immoral and dissolute life.”

This is what St. Theresa’s College, Cebu did. It called the girls immoral and dissolute. It insinuated that what could be seen as natural childish behavior were actually manifestations of lewdness and sexual provocation. It publicly humiliated five minors, announced their evils to their peers, and then followed with an act of monumental disrespect against the ruling of the courts. It perpetuated the same sort of discrimination that decades of its graduates have fought to destroy. And when the stories of attempted suicide and depression and psychological trauma began circulating, instead of some attempt at Christian compassion, the school locked its gates to the parents who attempted to defend their children. Five 16-year-olds are bullied and insulted before the public, called the worst names that young girls can be called, and this vanguard of Christianity has the gall to call the parents abusive.

Although it is the bikini issue that has raised much of the furor, the school claims that the girls are guilty of more than one crime. One girl, it says, was seen with a cigarette. Others were allowed alcoholic beverages in a bar. One of them sat with her underwear visible. It’s not just the bikinis, it says, we never called them sluts. But they could become drunkards and hellions, look at that picture, see that lit cigarette. It is an odd inconsistency for the school to claim it is the smoking and drinking that it finds most offensive, in spite of the fact that it punished all five equally, and is suing them equally, even those who were guilty of no more than a grin at the camera in a swimsuit.

As the school sees it, the unholy horrors committed by these children demand that the state protect them from themselves and their parents, forgetting that the horrors being committed against them now by the school have damaged them more than if they pranced drunk on the beach in their bikinis. It is difficult to understand precisely what the school considers too ample flesh, what it counts as immoral, indecent, obscene and lewd acts, what punishment a visible bra strap merits, and what sort of alcoholic beverages are considered tantamount to parental abuse. Perhaps the school should patrol Twitter accounts on Christmas Eve, strike out Lisa Macuja and her tutus from the alumni association, and storm the beaches in the summer. After all, it says it is not simply posting the photos that are the problem, but the acts themselves.

It is difficult to ignore the context of these cases. That parents such as these are called criminals is odd in a country where beat reporters deliver stories daily of fathers raping daughters and mothers killing sons, where a girl named Nicole was told in Olongapo it was her fault she was raped. Perhaps if the school were so focused on insisting on parental responsibility, it should direct its prayers on the thousands of small children who march down the highways begging for coins and selling their small bodies. I have yet to hear of the school filing cases against the parents of uneducated children in the slums in which Theresians conduct their monthly charities.

It is true that these parents chose Catholic schools with Catholic principles, but they are also aware, as these schools should be, that these schools exist within the scope of a secular country whose citizens are equally protected by their citizenship. STC says the case it filed is driven by fear that parental responsibility may be forgotten, and claims that the bringing up of children should be a partnership between parent and school. It hopes to set an example. And yet the parents attempted to compromise, pleaded with the school administration, supported apologies and promised to allow no other lapses. Perhaps it would be more accurate for the school to claim that the upbringing of minors is not so much a partnership as a benevolent tyranny, where parents must bow their heads and bend over to Sister’s swinging paddle, and teach their children to do the same.

I write this as a daughter of St. Theresa’s, the same as my sister, the same as my cousins, the same as my mother before me. I owe very much to a school that taught me the dangers of semicolons and tyrant-presidents, one that made room for the poorest and is the first to stand in defense of justice. It is the same school that insists that the first duty of power is to the weak and the oppressed. I speak now as I was taught to speak for 11 years in a grand old institution that I hope will earn back its pride. Let your light shine, Sisters. Be a blessing.

Patricia Evangelista graduated from St. Theresa’s College, Quezon City in 2002.

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