On the bikini facebook photos controversy of 5 STC Cebu High school students

Updated October 23, 2014: SC junks Cebu ‘bikini students’ plea vs. school : In an 18-page decision, the SC’s Third Division denied a petition for the issuance of a writ of habeas data filed by parents of two of the five sanctioned students.

Update April 1: Is STC Cebu placing itself above the law by defying the TRO?

Check STC Student Manual Sec V. High School Policies on Discipline

Open Letter to St. Theresa’s College

The other side of the Coin: St. Theresa’s speaks out

Update March 31: Cebu school defends action

Update March 30 RTC Branch 19 Sheriff Manuel Gimeno and process server Rey Christian Matta (left) are denied entry at the gate of St. Theresa’s College where they were supposed to serve a temporary restraining order on school officials who blocked five high school students from participating in the graduation ceremony. Gimeno and Matta were unable to serve the order. The school turned away the five students involved in the controversy of photos uploaded to Facebook showing them in bikinis and allegedly, with alcohol and cigarettes. They were not able to participate in the baccalaureate mass and the graduation rites that would have capped their high school lives. See photo of sheriff turned away and this No graduation rites


Virtue, science, and the arts are the seeds carefully planted in the student’s mind and heart – STC motto

That’s me 38 years ago after my High School graduation. A loyalist Theresian. I walked down the aisle of the St. Theresa’s College (STC) Cebu Chapel giddy with excitement that a new life awaited me in College. Nothing extraordinary happened the weeks before this momentous occasion.

It pained me to read the story of five girls who were initially not allowed to march on graduation day. My alma mater banned the girls from attending even pre-graduation rites because they were posing in bikini and posting their pictures online. The mother of one girl petitioned the court on behalf of her daughter. On Thursday, Judge Wilfredo Navarro issued a temporary restraining order on the STC’s sanction that applied to all the 5 students. The TRO said that STC must ““treat the minors with kindness and civility befitting true graduates of a respectable institution sans any discrimination for the entire duration of the commencement exercises.”

The offensive photos in Facebook

Having been in STC, I am aware how strict the school can be. During my time, someone had to measure how short our skirts were…that we should wear pantilets under our skirt and many more. I think shorts were not even allowed to be worn under our skirt. It was not feminine. Modesty was taught early on. I recall we had to wear a chemise or sando so that our bras will not be seen through the blouse. I think most Catholic girl schools have these rules.

Despite the strict rules, I appreciate the values and knowledge that prepared me for life.

Anyway, the school officials scolded the girls for posting their photos of themselves clad in bikini at their Facebook accounts. . The students said they ““were deeply hurt and cried” after being scolded by the officials whom they accused of humiliating them with abusive language calling them ““easy, drunks and addicts.” The girls say the photos posted in their Facebook accounts were about past events held outside the school and were not offensive. The school officials say the photos were considered by the school as ““offensive to the virtues” espoused by the Catholic school.

The sanction imposed on the students was based on the provisions in the STC Handbook. I am not sure if we had the handbook back then. I do recall we couldn’t go around town with our school uniform. In the handbook, STC bars students from drinking outside the school, engaging in lewd behavior and dress in clothing that exposes underwear.

Vague standards

Student Council Alliance of the Philippines (Scap) believes that STC’s Student Handbook violates students’ rights and the Constitution.

“One of the rules stipulates that students should not be ‘posing and uploading pictures on the Internet that entail ample body exposure’ among numerous provisions that impede on the private and personal affairs of their students.” Scap said in a statement.

University of the Philippines Center for Women’s Study director Sylvia Estrada-Claudio explained that the issue is an ““institutional problem.”

““Every institution, even private religious ones, need to think disciplinary rules through so that they do not end up with institutional mechanisms that provide vague standards for discipline that lead to discriminatory and cruel interpretations,” Estrada-Claudio said.

““The vagueness of ‘ample body exposure’ leaves the interpretation up to whoever is looking at the pictures. This allows school authorities such a broad latitude that it allows for arbitrariness. In this case this arbitrariness is now the subject of controversy and like many others, I think the student’s rights have been violated.”

Jerbert Briola of Human Rights Online Philippines said the sanction is a violation of Republic Act 9262 or the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act ““for causing psychological violence to the student” and that the school was ““harsh” for not allowing her to march on graduation day.

The parents plan to file charges of child abuse and “grave oral defamation” against the school and school officials.

Academic freedom

Academic freedom covers standard of conduct. The concept of academic freedom includes not just standards of academic performance but also of conduct and decorum. Every educational institution has the right to prescribe proper behavioral requirements.

But these standards must be reasonable, clear and made known to the students and parents beforehand. The standards of conduct of a respected institution like my alma mater STC Cebu which has been in existence for generations were crafted at a time when there was no social media as we know it today. Who could have foreseen the impact of Facebook?

Ideas of propriety and privacy are continually evolving and it now seems that the standards prescribe by STC are outdated. It might be time to review the code of behavior required of STC students. In the meantime, maybe a less rigid penalty can be imposed.

In this age of social media, this will not be the last instance of STC students posting comments , pictures in Facebook or other social media sites. It might be time for STC Cebu to accept certain realities and adjust to them in a positive and constructive way. Why call them out with abusive language as ““easy, drunks and addicts”? Name calling will not result in constructive engagement.

After all the values instilled by STC will remain with them for life and will not be destroyed by a mere error in judgment.

To this day, I carry the values that STC instilled in me. The school’s rallying cry is ““Let your light shine. Be a blessing to those in need, especially the underprivileged.” I hope these girls will not be traumatized and will rise above this pain. After all, a Theresian is a “woman of faith and a seeker of truth with a strong sense of mission” and as such will respond “creatively to the cry of justice and fullness of life.”

Come, Theresians, and acclaim,
St. Theresa’s glorious name.
Grateful hearts their tribute bear,
Loving lips shall sing for her,
For she stands among the rest
As a leaven for the quest.
Dearest home we stand for you.
Far or near our song rings true.
And our theme fore’er shall be,
“St. Theresa, hail to thee!”
And our theme fore’er shall be,
“St. Theresa, hail to thee!”
Photos via Chokyuhyn and tumblr post

Noemi Lardizabal-Dado (1388 Posts)

You may contact Noemi (noemidado @ gmail.com) for speaking and consultancy services in the following areas: Parenting in the Digital Age (includes pro-active parenting on cyber-bullying and bullying) ; Social Business ; Reinventing One’s Life; and social media engagement. Our parenting workshop is called "Prep to Prime (P2P): Parenting in the Digital Age (An Un­Workshop)" P2P Un­Workshops are conducted by two golden women in their prime, Noemi and Jane, who have a century’s worth of experience between them. They are both accomplished professionals who chose to become homemakers. This 180­degree turn also put them on a different life course which includes blogging, social media engagement and citizen advocacy. They call their un­workshops Prep to Prime or P2P, for short, to emphasize the breadth of their parenting experience. They tackle different aspects and issues of parenting ­­ from managing pregnancies, prepping for the school years of children, dealing with househelp, managing the household budget, to maximizing one’s prime life and staying healthy through the senior years.

  • I’m sorry. Yes your blog is lovely. but what the students did was way beyond what you know they did and what the media is portraying. Sr. Pupe would never act unreasonable unless what the students did was very immoral. The media and all the news you’ve heard are only half the truth. Not even half, it’s only one fourth of what really happened. but yes I agree with you about what STC is about because I grew up their and learned from an early age what is right and what is wrong. So please stop posting online as if you know everything. Inadequate information is dangerous. It makes ignorant on what the truth is. Ma papahiya ka lng. I know what the issue is because I have relatives in the school and at the moment the school is experiencing a very hard time. So please, if you are a true theresian you would know they won’t fight for something without any valid reason.

    • momblogger

      did you see the photos? if you haven’t then you don’t know the truth either. What you know is hearsay. Just as the nuns did. They did not discover these photos. Someone else did. Just like you, you only know from what others told you..now that is dangerous. I did not claim anything.

      I know what I am posting. So stop lecturing me as if you know what you are talking about….unless you saw the photos yourself.

    • Sam

      With respect, you have no idea what the students did or not do. Even if the nuns themselves told you it still does not mean it is true. If the girls really did something terrible they would not be making such a public fuss over the way they were treated. Just because some narrow minded nun thinks a bikini is ‘underwear’ does not make it so.

  • Thanks for this post. I am from STC Cebu and UP Diliman, too. I am also a lawyer and a human rights advocate. I came upon your blog when I was surfing the net looking for a copy of the student handbook. Like you, I suspect that there must have been some rights violation in this case, particularly on due process. This case would make a good test case since this could set a precedent later…for example, can an employer fire a person who uploaded questionable photos on facebook of a private gathering?

    • momblogger

      privacy issues I am sure. and obscenity is probably based on “I Know when I see it” as Potter Stewart would say.

  • Gregorio LLamedo

    The sanction is HUMANE & commensurates to the error the girls did. It’s NOT INHUMAN not to allow them to (Graduation) March . The 2-HOUR RITE in w/c they are barred from attending actually SPARED THEM FROM MORE SHAME by not letting others see their REAL faces coz once this happens, their nightmare begins. It becomes INHUMAN when & if the school FAILED THEM EVEN IF they passed all the subject areas. No doubt they can still get their diplomas but the certicate of conduct will for sure reflect their wrong doings–and this is the REAL SHOCK OF THEIR LIVES..This is a problem with TOO MANY. It has become a casual thing to CONSCIOUSLY disobey rules. The school is a miniature community -a training ground for the country’s stakeholders. I can only imagine the kind of society we have IN THE OF****–one where the too much show of skin is good, parents consenting to teens smoking & drinking; or permitting their daughters to sit on boys’ lap in public places; where affixing one’ s signature in the School Manual as a proof of one’s promise to abide by the laws is just a gesture of MERE SIGNING…Our culture as demure FILIPINAS is dying,with morality swiftly eroding. There would have been no “so much stirs” on this issue hadn’t the parents of these girls not approach the MEDIA; tantamount to consenting to these IMMORAL ACTS. THUMBS DOWN to the parents and the JUDGE; the resort management or the seller of the cigarette and the liquor should be the one sued for selling this “ILLEGAL DRUGS” to MINORS. VERY SIMPLE ! ! !

    • How the students acted on those photos, which were taken during family gatherings and were uploaded online within ‘close friends’ visibility, falls on to the very structure of parenting which is definitely out of the school’s jurisdiction. These nuns, who are caged from society, are not the best people to objectively define what is “lewd.” The institution’s territory, as per DepEd’s regulation, would be within school premises up to official authorized activities. Furthermore, any regulations or modifications by the school which are deemed beyond DepEd’s are invalid.

      When God forgives, Catholic schools don’t.