First the students, now their parents.
The case of five St. Theresa’s high school students who were barred from attending their March 30 graduation for posting “lewd” photos of themselves on Facebook, took a different twist when the private school decided to file criminal charges against the parents and a guardian of four of the girls.
The girls’ elders were accused of violating the special law on child abuse by “failing to supervise their minor children/ward.”
The criminal complaint was filed with the Cebu City Prosecutor’s Office by the STC directress, Sister Purisima Pe, ICM; assistant principal Mussolini Yap; and three alumni members
One girl and her mother were spared from the latest charge because they withdrew their earlier lawsuit against STC after reaching a settlement with the school.
The latest criminal charge appeared as a counterstrike, after the Catholic school was sued for damages and injunction last March and then criminal charges for grave oral defamation.
In yesterday’s complaint filed by STC, Sister Pe, the school directress, accused the parents and one guardian of the girls of causing their children “to lead an immoral and dissolute life.”
“(The) parents/guardian clearly failed to supervise their minor children/ward. They further failed to instill in them the virtues required to be instilled on these minors, both by law and our traditions,” the school officials and alumnae said in their joint complaint-affidavit filed before the Cebu City Prosecutors’ Office.
“The effect now of the failure of respondents to discipline their children is that these children see nothing wrong with their act of drinking, smoking and exposing their bodies to the public,” they added.
The plaintiffs include Salome Lape, Maria Teresa Atienza, and Jo-ann Zaldumbide who were described as “civic-minded, law-abiding citizens” who are STC alumni and/or parents with children enrolled in STC who are suing “as concerned citizens.”
CDN and several other media outlets have refrained from naming the girls, who at 16 years old are minors, ever since the controversy broke a few days before STC’s graduation rites.
The latest complaint filed by the school accused the parents and a guardian of violating Republic Act 7610 or the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act in relation to Presidential Decree 603 or the Child and Youth Welfare Code.
The parents’ lawyer Cornelio Mercado called the complaint “ridiculous”.
“I’m speechless. Ka-grabe. Di na ko kasabot. (That’s too much. I can’t understand that.),” Mercado told Cebu Daily News.
He said he would follow up with another complaint against STC for bringing dishonor on his clients.
“For them to file a case and accuse parents with this grave offense is inviting another charge. Filing that ridiculous complaint speaks a lot about who they are,” Mercado said.
“Let the court decide. Let them prove their allegations. They are aggravating the issues,” he added.
The case involves candid photos posted in Facebook of five girls, who belong to the same barkada. They were allegedly taken in at least three incidents, a birthday party in a Mactan resort, in a bar that served liquor, and on the street with Sinulog revelers.
As punishment, the school banned the high school seniors from attending the commencement exercise, while letting them girls graduate with a grade of “C” in the subject of “Personality”.
In a separate interview, one of the parents who got sued said they are willing to answer the accusations leveled against them.
“They (STC officials) have all the right to file countercharges. Anyway, filing is different from winning,” the mother told CDN.
She insisted there was “nothing lewd, obscene, and immoral” in the candid photographs where her daughter appeared.
“We will definitely answer the accusations. It’s part of due process.” she said. The Cebu City Prosecutor’s Office will ask the respondents to file counter-affidavits.
In their joint-affdaivit, the plaintiffs said STC has been existing for 79 years, “molding ladies into mature, responsible and self-disciplined members of the society in the light of the teaching of the Holy Catholic Church.”
It recounted how last February, computer teacher Mylene Escudero and STC discipline-in0charge Kristine Rose-Tigol showed to the assistant principal some photos posted on the Facebook page of one of the students.
When the Facebook page was viewed, it showed more photos of three other students.
The complaint said one girl was shown drinking liquor in a bar and then in the streets of Cebu “showing off, and in a very pronounced manner, her black brassiere”.
Two other girls were shown drinking liquor in a bar in the Asiatown IT park, while one of them was smoking a cigarette.
The STC complaints said that under the Anti-Child Abuse Law and an ordinance of Cebu City, minors are not permitted inside a bar.
The computer teacher downloaded the photos to her flash drive. The photos were shown to the girls who were punished for violating rules in the Daily Guide of the Students and he school’s handbook.
STC invoked article six, section 10 of Republic Act 7610 which punishes “acts of neglect, abuse, cruelty, or exploitation and other conditions prejudicial to the child’s development.
This provision states that “any person” who commits these acts shall suffer imprisonment of prision mayor in it minimum period.
The school also invoked provision of Presidential Decree 603 Child and Youth Welfare Code which states that “parents and guardians are responsible for the damage caused by the child under their parental authority.”
STC said the law sanctions any parent “who causes or encourages the child to lead an immoral or dissolute life.”
“Parents are vicariously liable for acts or omissions of their minor children,” the plaintiffs said.
They said there were photos of the girls which showed that they were permitted to drink hard liquor or tequila, enter bars and other places of amusements off-limits to minors, smoke, and roam around clad in indecent or skimpy clothing.
“(The girls’ actuations) are conclusive evidence of lack of parental control and supervision.
Respondents encouraged these minors to lead an immoral and dissolute life. Parents and guardian even faulted the school and filed cases against it and its administrators and faculty,” the plaintiffs said.
They said one of the parents even issued public statements saying there’s nothing wrong in the acts of the children.
“They (respondents) caused and encouraged these minors to engaged in immoral and disslute life when respondents sued the very persons who disciplined and called the attention of these minors, thereby sending the unlawful message that there is nothing wrong in the illegal and immoral ways of their children,” the plaintiffs said.
“The photographs all show that had these parents not been irresponsible and neglectful of their duties…, these children would not have done the unlawful and immoral acts of drinking, smoking, gallivanting around town wearing almost nothing. They would not have been lacking in restraint and lacking in sense of what is fundamentally right and wrong and decent,” they added.