Academic freedom

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - January 25, 2021 - 12:00am

Even for this administration, the recent attack on academic freedom is a low point. It is a good illustration of “isip pulis patola” that minimizes basic principles that are the basis of civilized society. The end does not justify the short cuts they take.

I thought Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana is one Cabinet member we can depend on to defend basic principles of democratic governance. He seems sophisticated enough to recognize nuances that Duterte ignores, but matters.

Unilaterally abrogating a long-standing agreement that keeps the military and police out of our highest institution of learning was something to be expected from a Bato dela Rosa, but not a Delfin Lorenzana. But he did it anyway without even a dialogue with the affected community.

Why is academic freedom so important? Simply because original thought, original ideas can be nurtured better in an environment where there is academic freedom. Scholars cannot think freely and creatively if they have to keep looking behind their backs, suspicious of armed guys in uniform.

In New Zealand, a magna carta for universities notes that: “Academic freedom is the foundation for the independent search for truth and a barrier against undue intervention by government and interest groups.”

For all the fuss it created, abrogating the agreement is unlikely to help the military eradicate communist recruitment on campus. What will they do? Raid political science classes? UP is an intellectual battleground where elements of the police and the armed forces are ill equipped to fight.

UP Political Science professor Clarita Carlos observed that she had “been teaching for more than half a century in this university and the recruitment I have witnessed and have heard about, are about cajoling our students to join born again organizations.”

She recalled that during martial law, law enforcement forces were “planted” in our classes. Of course, she noted, the professors in the university were neither naive, nor brainless. They knew every student enrolled in our MA and PhD Programs and why.

“In my case, I take advantage of their enrollment in my classes and ‘rearrange the furniture in their minds’ which they can take back with them when they go back to their respective services.

“You’d be surprised how this works, too, with UP students who have nothing but contempt for our law enforcement officials, who now change their minds about them through their constant interactions,” Prof. Carlos remembers.

Prof. Carlos headed the National Defense College of the Philippines (NDCP) for many years. She proposed that the NDCP be abolished and its budget be given to UP.

Integrating the National Security course in UP’s political science program makes sense simply because NDCP’s faculty are all from the UP, with a small number from the AFP for the military component.

Prof. Carlos also wanted the NDCP to move away from the “war college” ethos of counterparts in the US. But, she complained, she received a deluge of criticisms, many cruel, in reaction to that proposal. The military mind seemed very afraid of the academic freedom of UP.

Through their words and actions our military officers are still delivering the message they are afraid to encounter opposing ideas. Maybe that’s why they are finding it difficult to win the various insurgencies. Their perspective is limited due to the unwillingness to imagine alternative outcomes.

It should help to have PMA cadets cross enroll at UP for their political science subjects. Cross fertilization of ideas will help their future careers. After all, many of them get civilian jobs after they retire, so they might as well get a head start in understanding civilian thinking.

Could it be that the last thinking general who was not afraid to be in the battlefield of ideas was Gen. Jose Almonte? Late in his military career, Gen. Almonte requested to be allowed to take up graduate studies at UP.

Here are some of his recollections as related to Marites Vitug in his Memoirs, Endless Journeys.

“I understand that UP is the seat of the revolution in the Philippines. And I want to help.”

He related his experience with the VietCong.

“Every morning, we greeted each other cach mang, the Vietnamese word for revolution. To them it meant one heart, one mind, one mission. That was how they indoctrinated their people.

“I felt that I could somehow plant the seeds of what I had learned in Vietnam in the Philippines. It was very basic and I thought it could be a very strong foundation of a national community.

“I could begin in UP, where revolutionary ideas thrived.”

So, he enrolled at the Asian Studies Center graduate program. He came under the wings of two professors, Ruben Santos Cuyugan and Cesar Adib Majul.

“These two men were towering intellectuals and they helped shape me, being unselfish with their ideas and giving rigor to my sprawling thoughts and experiences. I was already honed in the jungle, no longer an innocent, and they dealt with me seriously.

“I did not feel any resistance as I was an outsider just starting life in academia. I shared my Vietnam experience with them and they were touched and fascinated.

“I was a full-time student and also a full-time organizer. In the morning, Ruben and Cesar were my professors. In the evening, they were my co-workers.

“Members of this group we put together ranged from neutral to left-leaning. I organized them initially as a study group. The purpose was to use their academic expertise to help in policy formation. This was the precursor to PCAS or Philippine Center for Advanced Studies.”

How come they no longer have JoeAls in the military? Sec. Lorenzana should invite him and brainstorm with him on how to proceed with their anti-insurgency drive, specially as it relates to UP. They should be as fearless as Gen. Almonte in waging intellectual battles within the university.

Our military has failed to win the decades old rebellion because they aim to win by force… with guns. They should try to win minds. And minds can’t be won by minds that have been brainwashed to see things just one way.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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