by Earl Guen Quiñones Padayao | February 21, 2023
I find it perplexing that many students’ understanding of their right to due process in schools remains very slim. In this column, I will write about how students’ right to due process can potentially tame the great disciplinary powers enjoyed by educational institutions.
Schools’ Power to Discipline
As a preliminary matter, I must start with the schools’ power to discipline.
The Supreme Court is quite clear that educational institutions enjoy the power to discipline students. As noted in the case of Jose Angeles v. Sison, “a school has a dual responsibility to its students. One is to provide opportunities for learning and the other is to help them grow and develop into mature, responsible, and worthy citizens of the community. Discipline is one of the means to carry out the second responsibility.”
In the case of tertiary and higher education, the Supreme Court said: “Academic freedom in all its forms, demands the full display of discipline. To hold otherwise would be to subvert freedom into degenerate license.”
In the case of basic education, which accommodates minor children, they also discipline students in exercising their child-rearing obligations under the concept of special parental authority and responsibility in the Family Code. Article 218 reads: “The school, its administrators and teachers, or the individual, entity or institution engaged in child care shall have special parental authority and responsibility over the minor child while under their supervision, instruction or custody. Authority and responsibility shall apply to all authorized activities whether inside or outside the premises of the school, entity, or institution.” This is qualified or limited by the second paragraph of Article 233: “In no case shall the school administrator, teacher or individual engaged in child care exercising special parental authority inflict corporal punishment upon the child.”
Disciplinary Powers are Limited By Due Process
Indeed, schools may impose disciplinary sanctions on erring students. However, we must beg the question: How far can these disciplinary sanctions go?
According to jurisprudence, schools’ right to discipline is not absolute but greatly limited by students’ right to due process. Indeed, due process is one of the most fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution – and a student is entitled to the same.
Students do not shed their constitutional right to due process upon entering campus. This is the doctrine from the en banc decision of Malabanan v. Ramento. Chief Justice Fernando wrote that “the authority of educational institutions over the conduct of students must be recognized, it cannot go so far as to be violative of constitutional safeguards.”
One illustrative case about students’ right to due process is Non v. Dames. In this case, the Supreme Court clarified that students enjoy the procedural due process before being sanctioned by schools. In effect, sanctions cannot be arbitrary, oppressive, and dismissive of rights. Talking about the requisite due process before the imposition of penalty:
“it [penalty] must be imposed only after the requirements of procedural due process have been complied with. This is explicit from the Manual of Regulations for Private Schools, which provides in Paragraph 145 that “[n]o penalty shall be imposed upon any student, except for cause as defined in this Manual and/or in the school’s rules and regulations duly promulgated and only after due investigation shall have been conducted.”
Furthermore, it could be culled from prevailing jurisprudence that the following minimum standards of students’ right to due process should be observed:
- The students must be informed in writing of the nature and cause of any accusation against them.
- The students shall have the right to answer the charges against them, with the assistance of counsel, if desired.
- The students shall be informed of the evidence against them.
- The students shall have the right to adduce evidence on their behalf.
- The evidence must be duly considered by the investigating committee or official designated by the school authorities to hear and decide the case.
- The penalty imposed must be proportionate to the offense committed.
- For those exercising special parental authority over student-minors, no infliction of corporal punishment upon the child.
Based on the preceding, jurisprudential sources of students’ right to due process exist. However, this is not enough.
Problems Concerning Students’ Right to Due Process
Due process is a very fluctuating concept that should not be left to the sole province of jurisprudence. Students’ rights to due process must be fully ventilated in the halls of legislature and captured by the law.
Anyway, there is greater stability in a positive law that expressly recognizes this right. To rely solely on jurisprudence is not legally strategic if we want to ensure students’ rights are amply protected from arbitrary and oppressive imposition of school penalties or disciplinary sanctions.
It is admitted that it is common for universities to include due process procedures in their manuals. However, without a uniform or standard national statutory framework, these school manuals would again be subject to the risks of abuse, whims, and caprice of people in power in the academe. Verily, mere university manuals and school discipline guidelines could not possibly be enough to give students a true voice compared to a law that has the effect of reshaping realities.