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PHILIPPINES: Sick boy dies after being punished by teacher

April 2, 2008


Urgent Appeal Case: AHRC-UAC-070-2008

3 April 2008
PHILIPPINES: Sick boy dies after being punished by teacher

ISSUES: Torture; corporal punishment; students; child abuse; child rights

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has been informed that a 14-year-old boy who was recovering from typhus, has died after having been punished by his teacher for failing to do his homework. The boy and other pupils were forced to do continuous squats. The victim had just returned to school from hospital where he was admitted for typhus when he was punished together with other students. He was sent home after he fell ill and appeared pale. His parents took him back to the hospital but he died some days later.


Fourteen-year-old Jovan Samson Pascual, was a second year high school student at the Lagao National High School (LNHS), a public school in General Santos City. He had been diagnosed to have been suffering from typhus. His physicians had advised his parents to avoid doing stressful activities and to take a rest at home.

On 6 March 2008, Jovan reported back to school after having been absent after being admitted to the hospital for 15 days. When his teacher, Leonarda Awayan, started asking her students to produce their homework, Jovan was amongst those several students who were unable to do so and he and several other students were then told to come forward in front of their classmates and ordered to do squats.

While Jovan and his other classmates were doing the squats he began to feel ill and appeared pale. However, although the teacher had been told that Jovan was recovering from typhus she continued the punishment. Soon after the teachers sent him home and he arrived there his parents immediately took him to the General Santos City Doctors Hospital (GSCDH).

After arriving at the hospital, they were told that Jovan should be taken to a hospital in Davao City, which is about three hours travel from General Santos City, for him to get the medical attention he needed. His parents took him to Davao City where he was confined until about March 19. On being discharged, when he was being taken home, he died in the vehicle.

It is alleged that Jovan's death could have been a result of the teacher's punishment aggravating his medical condition. Prior to Jovan's death, his parents had already properly informed his teacher of their son's illness. In the letter which they had given her, they provided explanation of Jovan's health condition and why he had been absent from school. However, after the incident, however, his teacher denied knowing her students' medical condition.

After the incident, the boy's parents made a complaint before the Barangay (village) Council of San Isidro in General Santos City. In the Philippines, the government encourages the settlements of conflicts under the Barangay Justice System, even in criminal cases. The complainants and the respondents are given opportunity to settle their differences at the village level before pursuing them in court. For the time being, no criminal charges have been filed against the teacher. It has already been reported that the teacher had frequently going to the boy's parent asking forgiveness and offering a settlement.

Also, even though the Division Office of the Department of Education (DepEd) in General Santos City has already commenced their investigation into the boy's death, their inquiry would look into the administrative and not the criminal offense of the case. Their investigation had also failed to come to a conclusion. The school where the teacher belongs, LNHS, has also endorsed the inquiry to the DepEd--which means they have turned over jurisdiction of the case to the Division.


Although corporal punishment in public schools is prohibited, there are teachers who continuously imposed punishments believing that it could be one of effective way in disciplining their pupils and students. This often results either in death, students losing interest in going to school out of fear and humiliation or students transferring to other schools--like private schools.

In the Philippines, the conditions in public can be trying and teachers have the tendency to resort to using violence and punishments. For example, the number of students in one room can be as high as fifty or over. The teachers have taken to using physical punishments, which can sometimes be violent, because the students, who are mostly from poor families, often do not make any complaints. Unfortunately there are also some parents who tolerate or even consent to the use of punishment when their children are naughty.

In the past in General Santos City, public school teachers commonly uses in open physical assaults and humiliation in dealing with their students. Incidents of teachers throwing board erasers at their students, hitting them with sticks and hard objects, threatening that they would be forced to eat papers if they could not answer, knocking their heads, amongst others, are common occurrences.

However, even when the parents do make complaints they rarely get any favourable action from the school authorities. The teacher's colleagues and heads often defend their teacher's; or would not take action at all. It is due to the parent’s lack of confidence in the school complaint mechanism that they resort to making complaints to local radio stations. Once the matters are aired over the radio, at least there is the possibility that they could get action.

Meanwhile, in January 2007, it was reported that two teachers in Tacloban City had been ordered by the Ombudsman to be charged with criminal offenses for violating a law which protects the children from being abused, which is an Act Providing for Stronger Deterrence and Special Protection Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination (RA 7610). The two teachers were reported to have verbally and physically abused their students.

Please write letters to the concerned authorities below requesting for their appropriate intervention into this case. The teacher involved should be imposed with sanctions immediately and that a credible and effective inquiry must begin. An inquiry must determine whether the teacher's imposition of punishment had aggravated the victim's medical condition which resulted to his death; and if it is so criminal charges must be promptly filed against her.

The AHRC had also written to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Question of Torture and the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

To support this appeal, please click here:

Dear ____________,

PHILIPPINES: Sick boy dies after being punished by teacher

Name of the victim: Jovan Samson Pascual, 14 years old, a resident of San Pedro Street, Lagao Generals Santos City; a second year high school student; had been suffering from typhus; died 13 days later after having been admitted to a hospital
Name of alleged perpetrator: Leonarda Awayan, a public school teacher attached to the Lagao national High School (LNHS), General Santos City
Date of incident: 6 March 2008 at the same school

I am writing to raise my grave concern regarding the death of a 14-year-old boy, Jovan Samson Pascual, days after having been punished by his teacher for failing to do his homework. Jovan had been suffering from typhus and had been admitted at the hospital for about 15 days prior to returning back to school. His physicians had advised his parents that he be avoided from doing stressful activities and he should take a rest at home.

I have learned that when he reported back to school on March 6, his teacher, Leonarda Awayan, had punished him together with several other students. He and other students were ordered to do squats in front of their classmates. It took him and the others for sometime until he had fallen ill and appeared pale. He was soon after sent home where his parents had immediately taken him to hospital for medical attention.

When he arrived at the General Santos City Doctors Hospital (GSCDH), the physicians attending him had advised his parents to take him to Davao City, where he could get sufficient medical attention which they also did. However, I have learned that 13 days later when he was taken back home from Davao City he died on his way.

There are serious allegations that the imposition of punishment on him by his teacher could have aggravated his medical condition which resulted to his death. According to the boy's parents, though they had properly informed his teacher about the medical condition of their son in a letter given to her explaining his absence from school, they were ignored. The teacher, instead, denied knowing it.

It is extremely disappointing though that despite having been aware of the boy's medical condition, the teacher has ignored this. In fact, even though corporal punishment is completely prohibited in public schools, the teacher involved has nevertheless imposed punishment to her students. And, despite having been told that the boy had fallen ill at the time he was on squats, the teacher did not stop him.

For students, particularly the children, to be treated as such is completely unacceptable and in contravention to what the duties and roles of the teachers should have been. Teachers should have thought good wisdom and knowledge on their students coming to school; however, this incident explains it otherwise. I am aware that corporal punishments is common in public schools and those victims are students or pupils coming from poor families. Often, the victims and their families had opted not to make complaints either for lack of confidence in seeking legal remedies; or for having no remedies available for them at all.

I therefore urge you to take adequate intervention to ensure the victim's families are afforded with appropriate assistance should they seek legal remedies. The teacher's involved should be immediately imposed with appropriate sanctions and that a credible and independent investigation must begin. I also urge you to ensure that the complaint the victim's family had filed are resolved without delay. I am aware that long delay and lack of legal aid for the families of victims of cases of this nature have frequently discourages them from pursuing their complaint.

Finally, I urge you to ensure that similar incidents are prevented from taking place. Existing policies and rules which prohibits the use of corporal punishments, violence and physical assaults, should be strictly imposed. This is essential in protecting the children from abuse by their own teachers who are supposed to properly educate them.

Yours sincerely,


1. Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
Republic of the Philippines
Malacanang Palace
JP Laurel Street, San Miguel
Manila 1005
Fax: +63 2 736 1010
Tel: +63 2 735 6201 / 564 1451 to 80
E-mail: corres@op.gov.ph 

2. Mrs. Purificacion Quisumbing
Commission on Human Rights
SAAC Bldg., Commonwealth Avenue
U.P. Complex, Diliman
Quezon City
Fax: +63 2 929 0102
Tel: +63 2 928 5655 / 926 6188
E-mail: drpvq@yahoo.com  

3. Mrs. Estrella C. Lariosa
Schools Division Superintendent
General Santos City Division
Department of Education - Region XII
Tiongson Street, Lagao, General Santos City
Tel: +63 83-5528909
E-mail: gen.santoscity@deped.gov.ph 

4. Atty. Quinciano V. Bueno
Commission on Human Rights (CHR XII)
Pascua Building,
Arellano St.
Koronadal City
Telefax: +63 83 520 0615

5. Mr. Jesli A. Lapus
Department of Eduction (DepEd)
DepEd Complex, Meralco Avenue
Ulra complex, Pasig City
Metro Manila
Fax: +63 2 636 4876
Tel: +63 2 633 7208
E-mail: osec@deped.gov.ph 

6. Deputy Director General Avelino Razon
Chief, Philippine National Police (PNP)
Camp General Rafael Crame
Quezon City
Fax: +63 2724 8763
Tel: +63 2 726 4361/4366/8763
E-mail: bluetree73@gmail.com 

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrchk.org)


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Extended Introduction: Urgent Appeals, theory and practice

A need for dialogue

Many people across Asia are frustrated by the widespread lack of respect for human rights in their countries.  Some may be unhappy about the limitations on the freedom of expression or restrictions on privacy, while some are affected by police brutality and military killings.  Many others are frustrated with the absence of rights on labour issues, the environment, gender and the like. 

Yet the expression of this frustration tends to stay firmly in the private sphere.  People complain among friends and family and within their social circles, but often on a low profile basis. This kind of public discourse is not usually an effective measure of the situation in a country because it is so hard to monitor. 

Though the media may cover the issues in a broad manner they rarely broadcast the private fears and anxieties of the average person.  And along with censorship – a common blight in Asia – there is also often a conscious attempt in the media to reflect a positive or at least sober mood at home, where expressions of domestic malcontent are discouraged as unfashionably unpatriotic. Talking about issues like torture is rarely encouraged in the public realm.

There may also be unwritten, possibly unconscious social taboos that stop the public reflection of private grievances.  Where authoritarian control is tight, sophisticated strategies are put into play by equally sophisticated media practices to keep complaints out of the public space, sometimes very subtly.  In other places an inner consensus is influenced by the privileged section of a society, which can control social expression of those less fortunate.  Moral and ethical qualms can also be an obstacle.

In this way, causes for complaint go unaddressed, un-discussed and unresolved and oppression in its many forms, self perpetuates.  For any action to arise out of private frustration, people need ways to get these issues into the public sphere.

Changing society

In the past bridging this gap was a formidable task; it relied on channels of public expression that required money and were therefore controlled by investors.  Printing presses were expensive, which blocked the gate to expression to anyone without money.  Except in times of revolution the media in Asia has tended to serve the well-off and sideline or misrepresent the poor.

Still, thanks to the IT revolution it is now possible to communicate with large audiences at little cost.  In this situation there is a real avenue for taking issues from private to public, regardless of the class or caste of the individual.

Practical action

The AHRC Urgent Appeals system was created to give a voice to those affected by human rights violations, and by doing so, to create a network of support and open avenues for action.  If X’s freedom of expression is denied, if Y is tortured by someone in power or if Z finds his or her labour rights abused, the incident can be swiftly and effectively broadcast and dealt with. The resulting solidarity can lead to action, resolution and change. And as more people understand their rights and follow suit, as the human rights consciousness grows, change happens faster. The Internet has become one of the human rights community’s most powerful tools.   

At the core of the Urgent Appeals Program is the recording of human rights violations at a grass roots level with objectivity, sympathy and competence. Our information is firstly gathered on the ground, close to the victim of the violation, and is then broadcast by a team of advocates, who can apply decades of experience in the field and a working knowledge of the international human rights arena. The flow of information – due to domestic restrictions – often goes from the source and out to the international community via our program, which then builds a pressure for action that steadily makes its way back to the source through his or her own government.   However these cases in bulk create a narrative – and this is most important aspect of our program. As noted by Sri Lankan human rights lawyer and director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando:

"The urgent appeal introduces narrative as the driving force for social change. This idea was well expressed in the film Amistad, regarding the issue of slavery. The old man in the film, former president and lawyer, states that to resolve this historical problem it is very essential to know the narrative of the people. It was on this basis that a court case is conducted later. The AHRC establishes the narrative of human rights violations through the urgent appeals. If the narrative is right, the organisation will be doing all right."

Patterns start to emerge as violations are documented across the continent, allowing us to take a more authoritative, systemic response, and to pinpoint the systems within each country that are breaking down. This way we are able to discover and explain why and how violations take place, and how they can most effectively be addressed. On this path, larger audiences have opened up to us and become involved: international NGOs and think tanks, national human rights commissions and United Nations bodies.  The program and its coordinators have become a well-used tool for the international media and for human rights education programs. All this helps pave the way for radical reforms to improve, protect and to promote human rights in the region.