School keeps 5 grads away

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Saturday, March 31, 2012


CEBU CITY (Updated) -- Five high school students were kept from joining their graduation ceremony, despite a court order issued last Thursday in their favor.

Two court officers who tried to serve a copy of the temporary restraining order (TRO) were barred at the gate of the St. Theresa’s College (STC) on Gen. Maxilom Ave., Cebu City.

The girls and their parents were also kept out, reportedly because they had no gate passes.

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“I hope my daughter will not be psychologically affected by all these,” said Cebu City Councilor Joey Daluz, whose daughter was one of the five girls affected.

In a statement, STC said the issue went beyond the posting of allegedly lewd photos on the social networking site Facebook.

“Being a Theresian is 24/7. One wears her badge wherever she goes. A Theresian continually upholds virtues and values of the school,” the school’s statement said.

Officially, the girls have graduated. It was only the ceremony they were barred from joining.

The school’s lawyer, Romeo Balili, said the TRO was “deficient” in the first place, because Judge Wilfredo Navarro of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 19 did not specify a bond amount.

Court sheriff barred at STC
CEBU. Court Sheriff Manuel Gimeno (center, back to camera) and process server Rey Christian Matta are kept out of the St. Theresa’s College in Cebu City. (Arni Aclao)


Long wait

In the TRO he issued last Thursday, the judge directed the school administration to let the students “fully participate” in the commencement rites.

They didn’t make it inside, even if they arrived an hour ahead of the 3 p.m. graduation schedule.

Neither did the court sheriff and process server of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 19.

Inside the STC auditorium, the graduation proceeded smoothly, with no mention of the five students’ names throughout the ceremony. Their names were not called out when it was time for the students to receive their diploma.

“Mura ra ug walay nahitabo (It’s as if nothing had happened),” one of the parents who attended the graduation told Sun.Star Cebu.

Outside, Sheriff Manuel Gimeno and Rey Christian Mata tried to serve the restraining order, which the court issued last Thursday, but were prevented by the school guards at the school’s main entrance.

The court officers arrived at 3:15 p.m. and pleaded many times, until 3:30 p.m. The guards said they had to wait until the graduation ended.

Students and parents barred at STC
CEBU. Four of the 5 girls are shown with their parents, after being turned away. (Arni Aclao)


Bonding

Gimeno told reporters he will make a report about the incident to Judge Navarro.

The families of the five girls proceeded to a nearby hotel.

“Nag-bonding na lang mi (We just bonded),” said Councilor Daluz.

“I’m still very proud of her,” he said of his daughter.

Daluz said the girls’ mothers presented their case to the school administration the whole morning, but to no avail.

The families were still not given passes for the graduation rites.

In a document, the school apologized for not allowing the students to attend the ceremony, but pointed out the school has submitted a motion for reconsideration of the restraining order.

“We expected that they would not allow us to go in because when we asked for the gate pass, they did not give us. But we went there hoping they will change their minds, you know, be Christian enough...,” the councilor said.

The main petitioner in the case against STC, a doctor from Lapu-Lapu City, went to court against the STC high school department and five of its officials last week.

The defendants are Sister Celeste Ma. Purisima Pe, school principal; Mussolini Yap, assistant principal; Marnie Racaza, Student Affairs moderator; Kristine Rose Ligot, discipline in-charge; and Edita Josephine Yu, homeroom adviser.

Motion

Atty. Balili said the school immediately filed a motion late Thursday afternoon seeking to reverse the restraining order. He denied that Sister Pe ever called the students “sluts, addicts, drunkards and cheap.”

Balili also said the photographs were “very appalling and revolting to the sense of any decent person.”

The motion for reconsideration, however, remained unresolved since Judge Navarro had to attend a hearing in Lapu-Lapu City on Friday.

One of the graduates said they expected their five batch mates to be present during the graduation because of the TRO issued by the court, but the graduation started and ended without them.

“Bastos!” one of the mothers shouted at the school guards when she and other parents were barred from entering the school.

Lawyer Enrique Lacerna, who represents one of the parents in the case, said appropriate charges will be filed on Monday against the school administration.

“That’s very bad,” he said in a phone interview.

In the TRO, the judge had said keeping the girls away from their graduation rites would not help them recover from a “psychologically and emotionally devastating experience.”

In a press conference Friday night, Atty. Balili said there was no reason to hold the school in contempt despite what happened Friday, because the TRO was deficient.

“We have all the right to disobey the law,” he added.

Integrity

In a two-page statement, the STC administration said the school didn’t deserve to suffer a beating in the public eye and from the media, because it has always upheld “Christian virtues, truth and integrity for the past 79 years.”

It said the school kept its silence despite the “short-sighted and false accusations” hurled against its officials, in order to protect the reputation of the five students.

In their urgent motion for reconsideration, the school pointed out that due process was given. The students were required to write and explain what happened.

Their written narratives were read by their respective parents, who were then asked whether they conformed or not with the sanctions. The parents allegedly signed.

The school also said the posting of the “lewd” photos online violated the student handbook, which prohibits posing and uploading photos that expose too much skin. School officials described the photos as “obscene, sexually provocative, and revolting to the sense of any decent person.”

Sr. Pe, the directress, said there was no truth to the allegation that she called the girls “sluts” and “drunkards.”

“They’re putting words into my mouth,” she said.

Quiet elsewhere

Fr. Ernesto Javier, chairperson of STC’s board of trustees, said they are also hurt by the incident and care deeply for the girls.

“How I wish this didn’t happen,” he said.

Elsewhere in the province, graduation rites went smoothly, said Superintendent Arden Monisit.

Local government units, he said, helped ensure peace and order during the commencement exercises in 1,080 elementary and high schools.

Monisit said he did not receive any complaints related to graduations. There were no reports of cancelled rites.

Department of Education (DepEd) Cebu Province Division formed a task force to respond to complaints regarding the collection of fees and other violations of DepEd’s policies on graduation. (With Jujemay G. Awit/Rebelander S. Basilan/Sun.Star Cebu)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 31, 2012.

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