Professors urge junking of Senate committee report 'red-tagging' campuses

Ian Nicolas Cigaral - Philstar.com
Bato Dela Rosa
Sen. Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa during the Kapihan sa Senado forum, July 4, 2019.
The STAR / Mong Pintolo, file

MANILA, Philippines — Professors on Monday urged the Senate to junk a committee report sponsored by Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa recommending measures seeking to prevent students from being recruited by communists, saying the move threatens academic freedom and red-tags campuses.

Last month, Committee Report No. 10 was released following a Senate inquiry into missing minors who allegedly joined the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

The investigation stoked fears that it was meant to suppress student activism. Two of the allegedly missing activists, neither of whom are minors, told reporters they were not kidnapped nor held against their will.

In a press conference at UP Diliman, Vice Chancellor for Research and Development Fidel Nemenzo stressed that "academic freedom is essential to UP's being the national university... essential to the life of the mind. It is essential to UP's role as social critic."

"There is no academic excellence without academic freedom. Academic freedom means the freedom to think, the freedom to write, the freedom to speak out, the freedom to question. This also means the freedom to question orthodoxies and authority without the threat of repression," he also said.

Nemenzo, quoting a message from UP Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan, said "academic freedom should be seen as part and parcel of honor and excellence," stressing that the university "[trusts] our faculty, our researchers, our students to exercise this freedom with responsibility without need for the state to come in with its police power."

RELATED: 'Being leftist is far from being a terrorist,' Justice secretary stresses

'Ideology no justification for violence'

At the same press conference, a video of which was posted by the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, Michael Pante—a History professor at the Ateneo de Manila University and spokesperson for ACT-Private Schools—said that the government has created a "atmosphere of fear" in going after groups accused of being communist fronts.

He said in Filipino that there have been reports of police personnel going to campus to ask for the names of faculty members and students "who can be considered members of communists groups." This, despite being a communist not being a crime.

He said that it is the state's responsibility to ensure the safety of the youth "whether or not they are communists or whatever their ideology is." He said that a student's ideology should not legitimize or justify violence against them.

"Why does it fall on these people, these students or professors suspected of being communists... why are they being made to account for their ideologies?" he also said.

He stressed that school administrations have mechanisms in place, like checking an activist group's activities and that while parents have legitimate concerns about the safety of their children, "there is no need for the Philippine National Police or the military to intervene."  

Dela Rosa: Activists 'making rebels out of young students'

Sen. Dela Rosa, chair of the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, said in his sponsorship speech of the committee report that activist groups like Kabataan party-list and Anakbayan and "other left-leaning groups [are] making rebels out of our young students."

He said that the groups would recruit students by "[discussing] some academic issues like tuition fee increases, student representation on policy-making bodies, and the like" and later move on to "more serious social, political and economic problems such as massive unemployment, suppression and violation of individual rights, steady price hike of commodities, among others."

Dela Rosa, a former Philippine National Police chief, said that this would lead to activists "[indoctrinating] the students in the belief that the Government is not responsive to the needs of the people, and that poverty is embedded into the system."

"They inculcate into the young minds of our students that the only way to eliminate social ills is to defy the duly constituted authorities, and raise arms," Dela Rosa claimed.

Anakbayan spokesperson Alex Danday said in August that the group is working towards societal change: "Wage increases, land for the farmers, and free, quality education."

She acknowledged that there are activists who do join the New People's Army, but "that is the personal choice of the individual and that is not something that is forced on or even suggested to members." 

"We don't recruit members of the New People's Army," she also said.

'Old, tired and uncorroborated claims'

The members of the academe said Committee Report No. 10 "not only reproduces old, tired and uncorroborated claims from the police and the military, but it also red-tags our campuses and, and as a result, endangers the lives of students and teachers are probable enemies of the state."

“We sound the alarm regarding the impending death of academic freedom and the return of authoritarian control in the realm of education. The reign of a culture of impunity and the silencing and trampling of critical thought can do nothing but damage to our educational vocation,” they added.

The panel report was prepared by the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, chaired by Dela Rosa, and National Defense and Security, Peace, Unification and Reconciliation, chaired by Sen. Panfilo Lacson. The two lawmakers are former Philippine National Police chiefs.

Membership in or support of a national democratic activist organization is not equivalent to affiliation with the communist movement. Although the government uses the term "communist terrorist," a petition with a Manila court to declare the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People's Army as terrorist groups is still pending.

RELATED: The Anti-Subversion Law, explained

In the committee report, the Senate panel gave the following recommendations that it said would help prevent recruitment by :

  • Increased/intensified internal security enforcement in schools
  • Police visibility around and within campus’ premises
  • “Stringent” regulations on the issuance of student identification cards
  • A probe led by the Department of Education and Commission on Higher Education into “possible liabilities of school administrations and teachers”
  • A career orientation by the military and police encouraging students to pursue studying law enforcement-related courses
  • Regular review of academic curriculum
  • Investigation “of all allegations” against teachers
  • De-radicalization program for students
  • Further investigation of recruiters

— Ian Nicolas Cigaral

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