Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 9 May 2015


More than two months ago I wrote a column about the death of Liam Madamba, a full scholar (international baccalaureate, or IB) of British School Manila (BSM). Just the day before he committed suicide, he had been the recipient of congratulations from teachers and students because it was reported that he was in line to get the highest grades in all his subjects. In fact, he was a shoo-in for class valedictorian.

He died on Feb. 6, I wrote my column on Feb. 28. I reported that “concerned parents” had written the board of governors of the school, chaired for the past 15 years by Simon Bewlay, asking for an independent review of the matter. This was done, but less than two weeks later, Mr. Bewlay wrote everyone that the BOG had accepted the offer of the Council of Trustees to take charge of the panel selection and set the scope of the review.

That was the state of affairs of Feb. 28. What has happened since then?

Natalie Mann, the BSM faculty member with whom Liam had met the night before he died, and who was believed to have bullied and humiliated him to the point of suicide, quietly left the country sometime mid-March. No fanfare, no farewell parties. Obviously, Simon Mann, the head of school, was aware of it, but he waited till she left before sharing her farewell note with parents. The note was to the effect that the publicity from Liam’s death had made her family members fear for their safety. Her constructive message: She was the victim.

Note to the Reader: Ms Mann, who apparently had no previous experience with IB programs (she was hired as an English teacher in 2010 and was appointed IB coordinator only in August 2014), had also gained, during the five years she was with BSM, a reputation for delighting in the public humiliation of the students who earned her displeasure. In short, she was a psychological bully. I have been provided examples of it. This from a school whose teaching and learning policy are replete with mentions of promoting or building the students’ self-esteem. Question: Why was Ms Mann not corrected? If management did not know about this, what does it say of management? What were her qualifications as IB coordinator? And for that matter, why didn’t management put Ms Mann on preventive suspension immediately after Liam’s suicide, until the independent review team could at least talk to her, or clear her?

The Parent-Teacher Association was called to a meeting by the school management, and was reminded that the PTA’s raison d’etre was mainly to raise funds. The school apparently did not take kindly to the parents asking questions or making comments about what was happening. There also seems to be continuing pressure on parents who have been vocal. Another instance of bullying?

But the final nail on the coffin of poor BSM management deals with the membership and the report of the Independent Review Panel (IRP), and how it was subsequently distorted.

First, remember that the IRP was formed as demanded by parents who wanted to know what really happened in the case of Liam Madamba, hopefully so it would not happen again. Well, when the IRP got together, its marching orders were: to review BSM processes and practices dealing with plagiarism for year 12/13 students, and to review BSM support structures.

What is objectionable about this is the implicit assumption that Liam Madamba committed plagiarism. What he submitted was a first DRAFT (as evidenced by the online school calendar which said that Feb. 2 was the deadline for first drafts for that assignment). No publication. No one to see it but the teacher, who had to say nothing more than “Tsk, tsk, where are your quotation marks?” or some such. Natalie Mann made a mountain out of a molehill.

Second is the matter of “packing the jury.” Of the five-member IRP, only two—Edgar Chua of Shell and Dr. Steven DeKrey of the Asian Institute of Management—can be considered truly independent. That is because the two lawyers in the IRP are apparently on retainer with the BSM (a fact that came out only after the report was finished and the tampering with the report started, as described below). And the fifth member was apparently on socially friendly terms with Simon Mann or Simon Bewlay, or both. Is this behavior ethical? Who in the Council of Trustees of BSM made the choice? Did they realize what was going on? For shame

In spite of the jury-packing, the report of the IRP obviously still did not please the BSM management. So a lot of changes were made in the report. How do we know this? Because Edgar Chua, the chair of the IRP, said so. He publicly repudiated the report “released” by the Council of Trustees.

Apparently, when he submitted the report, he had already bent over backward and said that if the BSM had comments or wanted changes made, he would allow these to be included in an annex to the report. But he did not want changes to be made in the text of the report. How much more clear can you get?

I have a copy of the original report and of the “released” report. They are certainly not the same. The report “released” by the Council of Trustees is certainly not an abridged, condensed version of the original, because in some places there are substantial additions which to my mind were done to make the BSM management look better.

If the BSM wants to keep its reputation as a good school, that intellectually dishonest management has got to go. And maybe Liam’s death will have served a purpose.