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Teachers slapped with criminal raps for drowning of students in Bataan


The Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed criminal charges against five teachers who were supposed to be watching over two students who drowned during a field trip in Bataan last September 12.
 
In a resolution penned by prosecution attorney Gail Stephanie Maderazo, the DOJ found probable cause to file charges for violation of Article 249 of the Revised Penal Code on reckless imprudence resulting in homicide against teachers of the Cebu International School for the death of 13-year-old Grade 8 student Kyle Julian Weckman, whose mother Jacqueline Weckman filed a complaint with the DOJ. The other student who died was Kyle's classmate, Korean Jae Hak "James" Jung.
 
According to the Cebu Daily News, Kyle was the grandson of newspaper publisher and former Cebu congressman Jose “Dodong” Gullas. The victim's mother meanwhile served as chairperson of the CIS board of trustees in 2010 to 2011.
 
Named respondents in the case were CIS teachers Tyler Herbst, Susan Rigby, Socorro Laplana, Leah Joy Cabanban, and Geronimo Alguno. The victim's mother also wanted CIS school superintendent Deidre Fischer to be charged, but the DOJ found insufficient evidence to do so. The case was filed with a Morong, Bataan court.
 
The victims, along with other students, were taken by the teachers to a waterfalls at Sitio Kanawan in Morong, Bataan for an activity called "small falls trek with survival technique." During the activity, Kyle and Jung were sucked in by a strong underwater current while swimming resulting in their drowning.
 
Mrs. Weckman said parents of the students were "given the impression" that the trip was within the Subic Free Port Zone, when it actually required a 45-minute bus ride and another 45-minute walk through an uphill and densely forested path leading to the waterfalls.
 
The trip's guides, including the chieftain of Sitio Kanawan, claimed the teachers did not mention of any swimming activities during the trip and that the teachers also did not request any rescue device from them. The chieftain also said the Filipino teachers were well aware that they were merely jungle guides who were not trained in water rescue.
 
Mrs. Weckman said even if she refused to sign a consent form, the teachers did not "take the time to check if the students who were lining up to jump into the water were allowed by their parents to go swimming."
 
The DOJ also found out that one of the teachers, Rigby who claimed to be a former lifeguard, jumped "gleefully" into the water without changing into proper swimming attire, and even encouraged the students to do the same.
 
Two students who witnessed the incident also claimed they were not given safety instructions when swimming in a waterfalls. The students said all the teachers told them was to jump not from a "higher but a lower jumping point." The witnesses also said Rigby did not prevent the two victims from swimming toward the waterfalls. It was all too late when Rigby noticed that the students were already too close to the waterfalls.
 
The teachers also allegedly failed to search right away for Kyle as some of the teachers were busy administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the Korean victim, while others were busy taking pictures and videos of themselves.
 
Aquino, who was teacher-in-charge, was faulted for making efforts to bring swimming and floatation devices for the trip.
 
Mrs. Weckman wanted the school superintendent to be included in the charges because she approved the itinerary without conducting or requiring " a prior survey or ocular inspection of the place in order to determine whether it is safe and secure for the students not only to swim, but even to stay in the area."
 
In its findings however, the DOJ gave more weight on the school superintendent's claims that she had "no direct supervision and control over the planning and implementation of the subject filed trip." Fischer also argued that she relied "on the good faith" of her subordinates, and that she did not have to acquaint herself with "minute details" of the trip. 
 
While dismissing criminal liability against her, Fischer could still be held civilly liable, according to the DOJ. The DOJ cited a Supreme Court decision holding a superior responsible for negligence of his or her employees. — RSJ, GMA News
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