Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian on Thursday called for stricter enforcement of anti-cyberbullying measures in the event of increased exposure to harassment and threats in online classes due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.

Gatchalian, chair of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture, explained that part of our efforts to continue education in the middle of the pandemic is preventing occasions of bullying, citing Republic Act No. 10627 or the Anti-Bullying Act of 2013, which requires elementary and secondary schools to adopt policies regarding bullying.

The senator stated that cyberbullying has been prevalent long before the Covid-19 pandemic which now forces students to spend more time with their devices, increasing the risk of violence and abuse online.

“Kahit na nananatili ang ating mga mag-aaral sa kanilang mga bahay, patuloy dapat ang ating mga hakbang upang protektahan ang ating mga mag-aaral dahil hindi nawawala ang posibilidad na makaranas sila ng bullying at iba pang anyo ng pang-aabuso at karahasan,” he continued.

The Anti-Bullying Act of 2013 requires schools to have clear strategies and procedures in handling bullying cases, such as protecting people who report bullying incidents from retaliation, providing counseling, and referring appropriate services for victims, their families, and perpetrators.

It also mandates the Department of Education (DepEd) to have training programs, courses or activities to increase knowledge and skills against bullying.

Gatchalian cited the latest National Baseline Study on Violence Against Children report which said that about 43.8 percent of Filipino children aged 13-17 experienced cyber violence. One-third of these were in the form of verbal abuse over the internet or cellphones, while one-fourth were in the form of sexual messages. Around 2.5 percent also experienced having their own nude body or sexual activities, both real and falsified, shown online.

He added that the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2018 results revealed that incidence of bullying is highest in the Philippines out of 79 countries, and that 65 percent of Filipino high school students experience bullying at least a few times a month.

The study also showed the adverse effects of bullying on both the aggressor and the victim, including poorer academic performance and an increased tendency to skip classes and drop out.

As mandated by DepEd’s Department Order No. 40 s. 2012, Gatchalian reiterated the need to create Child Protection Committees to counter child violence and abuse in all forms. Francis David T. Perez