Lawmakers: Junking UP-DND accord raises tension, shrinks democratic space
The University of the Philippines community gathers at Quezon Hall on January 19, 2020, to protest the termination of the 1989 UP-DND Accord which bars state forces from entering the school’s campuses.
Released/ The Philippine Collegian

Lawmakers: Junking UP-DND accord raises tension, shrinks democratic space

Bella Perez-Rubio, Xave Gregorio (Philstar.com) - January 19, 2021 - 12:46pm

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 3:02 p.m.) — Lawmakers questioned Tuesday the Duterte administration's decision to end a 31-year-old agreement between the Department of National Defense (DND) and the University of the Philippines (UP) which bars security forces from entering campuses without coordination, citing fears that the move will muzzle the academic freedom enjoyed by the country’s premier state university.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, who is a UP graduate and former justice secretary, in an interview with CNN Philippines' "The Source" said that ending the agreement "unnecessarily increases tension between the UP and the authorities” and called on Lorenzana to review the termination of the pact.

"We are not saying that UP should be beyond the law. If there are issues or violation of the law, a search warrant, for example, is available. And this is a remedy available to authorities not only in other places but also in UP," Drilon said.

Rep. Ruffy Biazon (Muntinlupa City), who is vice-chair of the House defense panel, urged the DND to reconsider its termination of the agreement and instead have a dialogue with the state university, saying that its decision may paint the military and the police as “enemies” of the UP and the youth.

“Without actually occupying the campuses, the termination will give a sense of academic freedom being under siege,” Biazon said.

At a press briefing Tuesday, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque — a graduate of UP Law and a former professor there — said President Rodrigo Duterte supports Lorenzana's decision.

Encroaching on democratic spaces

For Sen. Panfilo Lacson, a former national police chief, the accord's abrogation is sure to affect the culture of academic freedom in the UP.

"Because UP is known to be independent, and they're involved in political issues, they enjoy so much freedom, and then all of a sudden, you'll take that freedom away from them, that really hurts," he said during an interview with ANC's "Headstart.". "Definitely, there will be outcry, there will be protests.”

“UP is known for its openness to ideas and debates as well as academic freedom,” House Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Zarate (Bayan Muna party-list) said. “These are the ideals that the DND are trying to suppress by unilaterally abrogating the accord.”

But House Assistant Minority Leader France Castro (ACT Teachers party-list) said the termination of the agreement seeks to nor only stop academic freedom and critical thinking but also the freedom and democratic space of all Filipinos.

“They want to control every democratic space and arena possible using the twisted pretext of supposed Reds' recruitment,” said Rep. Arlene Brosas (Gabriela party-list), who noted that UP has been a safe haven for protests even during the heavily militarized lockdown.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros defended the UP as a "bastion of student activism" whose "grounds must continue to be a safe space for dissent and peaceful assembly." 

"UP has produced some of the best and brightest minds in our country’s history and there is no doubt that the academic freedom enjoyed by the State University played no small part in this," Sen. Sonny Angara said in defense of his alma mater. 

Sen. Francis Pangilinan, also a UP graduate and a former student regent, took to Twitter on Monday night to slam the abrogation: "Tinutulan natin ang panghihimasok ng diktador noon (We opposed the dictator's intervention then.) UP has always been and will always be a citadel of freedom and democracy. Pakiusap lang, please do not mess with UP."

He was referring to the Diliman Commune, which took place 50 years ago when the UP community barricaded for days in protest of the Marcos administration even before it turned into a dictatorship.

Terminated unilaterally

 Angara emphasized that as with "any other legal agreement, prior consultation is required before any decision to amend or, in this case, terminate is implemented." 

Lawyer Chel Diokno, the founding dean of De La Salle University’s College of Law,  pointed out that Article 1308 of the Civil Code states that contracts "bind both contracting parties, its validity or compliance cannot be left to the will of one of them." 

"Instead of harassing students, it would have been better if DND had complied with the law. They cannot simply terminate the UP-DND Accord," he said in Filipino on his Twitter account. 

A report from the school's student paper, The Philippine Collegian, on Monday night revealed that Lorenzana in a letter to UP President Danilo Concepcion said the deal was terminated on January 15.

The defense secretary also said that there is "ongoing clandestine recruitment inside UP campuses nationwide for membership in the CPP/NPA" and that recruiters in the university were using the accord "as a shield or propaganda." UP has long denied these claims and the defense sector has failed to present substantial proof to back up its accusations.

Contrary to these claims, Angara, in Filipino, said the agreement "has been effective in carrying out the duties of our authorities and has not been an obstacle to the legal suppression of crime." 

While Lorenzana said he terminated the deal of his own volition and was not ordered to do so by President Rodrigo Duterte, the chief executive has baselessly accused UP of recruiting communist rebels and has even threatened to defund the school over a student strike which was started by students from Ateneo de Manila University.

Lacson said he saw sense in Lorenzana's decision but questioned its legality. "I haven't seen the contents of the agreement — whether it could be terminated unilaterally or by one party alone."

Zarate also said that due process should have been observed in terminating the agreement and that the fate of the pact should not be unilaterally determined by the DND. 

'Fasism finds its way into campus'

Detained Sen. Leila de Lima noted that the Duterte administration has failed to produce compelling proof that UP has served as a breeding ground for the recruitment of armed rebels. 

"Nothing prevented them from pursuing any legitimate case supported by evidence against any UP personality," she said. "That they fail to make their case after years of trying and billions of intelligence funds speaks more about their incompetence than any perceived disadvantage under the UP-DND accord." 

"This abrogation is a message to the UP Community that the Duterte administration is now taking its brand of fascism inside the campuses whenever they please. It is a warning to students, professors and staff not to speak ill of the wannabe dictator in Malacañang, lest they be branded enemies of the State," De Lima also said. 

She also renewed her condemnation of what she called the administration's repeated deployment of lawfare or the misuse of laws to punish perceived enemies all while "ignoring and tolerating" its real foes. 

"Anti-Terror Law. Persecution of human rights defenders. Red-tagging. Summary execution of red-tagged personalities. And now this, an assault on academic freedom. All aimed at enhancing this regime’s authoritarian project," the senator said. 

'Focus on other issues'

For Hontiveros, if the government is really bent on looking for communists, it should take action against China, which she said is “openly invading” the West Philippine Sea.

Brosas shared the same sentiments, who called on the DND to deploy more troops in the contested waters instead of the UP.

Castro also hit the Duterte administration for supposedly prioritizing attacks against its critics and the opposition instead of focusing on the coronavirus pandemic and the economic fallout it caused.

There have been protests on UP campuses against the allegedly draconian provisions of the anti-terror law as well as to urge the government to ramp up COVID-19 testing and to provide financial support for people affected by the pandemic.

“If those calls are tagged by the police as rebellious, we ask them: How do they define nationalism and serving the people?” Castro said.  — with a report from Christian Deiparine

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