Students slam scrapping of UP-DND accord
Students stage a rally behind the Oblation at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City yesterday to protest the government’s cancellation of a decades-long pact hindering police and soldiers from entering the state university’s campuses.
Ernie Peñaredondo

Students slam scrapping of UP-DND accord

Janvic Mateo (The Philippine Star) - January 20, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — University of the Philippines students and activists protested yesterday a government decision to allow security forces to patrol the campuses of the country’s biggest university after authorities accused UP of being a breeding ground for communist rebels.

The Department of National Defense (DND) has unilaterally abrogated a 1989 agreement with UP that prohibited the uncoordinated entry of military and police forces inside UP campuses nationwide.

Academics and politicians also condemned the scrapping of the agreement, saying it threatened academic freedom and opened the door to red tagging.

In a two-page letter dated Jan. 15, Lorenzana informed UP president Danilo Concepcion yesterday of his decision to terminate the agreement, claiming “ongoing clandestine recruitment” of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CCP) inside UP campuses.

Lorenzana alleged that the agreement was being used as a shield to prevent law enforcers from conducting operations against CCP and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA).

“By reason of national security and safety of UP students, this department intends to remedy this situation by terminating or abrogating the existing agreement in order for us to perform our legal mandate of protecting our youth against CPP/NPA recruitment activities,” said Lorenzana.

The agreement was signed by then UP president Jose Abueva and then defense secretary, former president Fidel Ramos. The pact required law enforcers to seek prior notification from school officials before conducting operations inside UP campuses, except in cases of hot pursuit and emergency.

The agreement does not contain a provision on how it can be terminated.

Attack on academic freedom

In his letter to the defense secretary, the UP president expressed regret that the agreement was abrogated unilaterally, without prior consultation that would have addressed concerns that the DND raised.

“I must express our grave concern over this abrogation, as it is totally unnecessary and unwarranted, and may result in worsening rather than improving relations between our institutions, and detract from our common desire for peace, justice and freedom in our society,” Concepcion said.

“May I urge you, therefore, to reconsider and revoke your abrogation, and request further that we meet to discuss your concerns in the shared spirit of peace, justice and the pursuit of excellence,” he urged.

In response to the unilateral junking of the accord, members of the UP community, students, faculty and officials staged an indignation rally at the UP Diliman campus yesterday, calling the abrogation an attack on academic freedom and a threat to UP.

UP Diliman chancellor Fidel Nemenzo said the move strikes a dangerous blow to academic freedom because it sends the message that intellectual and cultural inquiry has limits. Nemenzo is the son of former UP president Francisco Nemenzo, the faculty regent who witnessed the signing of agreement on June 30, 1989.

“The unilateral abrogation denied UP of its right to academic freedom. Claims about clandestine recruitment of communists in the campus, which require rigorous probe, are not grounds for unilaterally cancelling an agreement, which was founded on a constitutional right,” he said.

For her part, Vice President Leni Robredo slammed yesterday the termination of the 1989 UP-DND agreement, saying it was meant to silence government critics.

“The unilateral scrapping of the decades-old accord sends the opposite message: That under this administration, anyone, anywhere, at anytime, is fair game. Clearly, then, this is not a practical gesture, but a symbolic one. One designed to sow fear. One designed to discourage dissent. One designed to silence criticism,” Robredo said in a statement.

For human rights lawyer Chel Diokno, the DND cannot just terminate the agreement without the consent of the other party. “It’s clear under article 1308 of the Civil Code: contracts ‘bind both contracting parties, its validity or compliance cannot be left to the will of one of them,’” Diokno wrote on Twitter.

Mixed reactions

Meanwhile, lawmakers from both the Upper and Lower House expressed mixed reactions on the termination of the UP-DND agreement.

Sen. Sonny Angara appealed to Lorenzana to reconsider his decision and sit down with the officials of UP to come up with solutions. “Just like any other legal agreement, prior consultation is required before any decision to amend or, in this case, terminate is implemented. Any issues or problems that our authorities see in the agreement can be discussed calmly and in a constructive manner,” said Angara, a UP alumnus.

Sen. Risa Hontveros denounced the unilateral termination of the longstanding accord, saying, “If the administration decides to look for communists, they will discard the communists who are openly invading the West Philippine Sea.”

Sen. Francis Pangilinan also opposed the unilateral termination of the agreement and filed Senate Resolution 616 that calls for a dialogue between the two parties. “Dialogues, not suppression, win hearts and minds. And with the ‘woke’ among the youth, lalong pinipigil, lalong nanggigigil (the more you suppress, the more they push back),” said Pangilinan, who was UP Student Council chairman in 1986.

Sen. Leila M. de Lima said UP experts are a constant fixture in policy discussions. “Many of our leaders received UP education. UP was able to do all that and more because we allowed them academic freedom, free from political harassment by, and interference from, government forces. I support the UP community and join them in defending the freedoms that no administration has the right to curtail,” said de Lima.

Angara, Hontiveros, Pangilinan, de Lima, along with Senate President pro tempore Ralph Recto, Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon, Nancy Binay and Joel Villanueva, filed a resolution urging the Senate to object to the unilateral termination of decades-old agreement. The resolution also urged UP and DND to “commence a dialogue and find common ground that promotes peace and security, and protects academic freedom and the pursuit of excellence.”

On the other hand, Sen. Ronaldo dela Rosa agreed to ending the DND-UP agreement, saying “it is long overdue.”

“The government was fooled by the CPP/NPA/NDF in the last 31 years thru that agreement,” said dela Rosa, who served as chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP).

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who chairs the Senate committee on national defense, said that with the termination of the 1989 pact, the security sector should come up with an agreement with UP on boundaries to be observed. “Once the pact is terminated, what will the security sector do? We don’t know that yet. Probably they could come to an agreement that there are boundaries to be observed,” Lacson, a former PNP chief.

Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez, Muntinlupa City Rep. Ruffy Biazon, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman and Makabayan bloc leader Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate criticized the unilateral junking of the pact.

“The unilateral decision sends a chilling effect on the exercise of the constitutionally guaranteed rights of academic freedom, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, which have thrived in UP. It will breed mistrust in the government and its uniformed forces,” Rodriguez stressed in a statement.

Biazon agreed and said the DND’s move was ironic, considering that instead of “protecting and securing the institution and youth against the enemies of the Filipino people, it will provide a basis for the Armed Forces and police to be seen as the enemy of the institution and the youth.”

Lagman, for his part, branded the move as “military invasion of UP campuses.”

“It is fraught with emerging violations of academic freedom, civil liberties and fundamental rights protected and enshrined in the Constitution,” he argued.

The Makabayan bloc also slammed the DND’s action. “UP is known for its openness to ideas and debates as well as academic freedom, these are the ideals that the DND are trying to suppress by unilaterally abrogating the accord. Indeed, for fascism, academic freedom is anathema,” Zarate said in a statement.

‘Defend UP’

The former student leader who signed the 1982 Soto-Enrile accord that served as basis of the 1989 UP-DND deal asked UP students to defend their institution.

“I am saddened and worried. For me, the UP-DND Agreement in 1989 was based on the Soto-Enrile Accord in 1982 and both resulted from democratic reforms of youth-students and should not be hastily and unilaterally trashed by the government. We fought for it then,” said Sonia Soto, signatory to the agreement with then defense secretary Juan Ponce Enrile.

Former vice president Jejomar Binay also slammed the move of the DND to end the agreement. “If the administration is out to protect democracy, then it should protect academic freedom and not suppress it. I can say that this move is a step backward. It does not protect students. It exposes them to greater danger. It does not protect academic freedom and democracy. It undermines them,” Binay said.

Militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) expressed alarm over the unilateral termination of the accord. “Everything that the accord prohibits, the DND now wants allowed. What was prohibited is now allowed. Former safeguards are gone. That is the implication of the accord’s termination. The UP community will not allow this, not then, not now.” Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes said.

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said yesterday that DND’s decision to unilaterally abrogate its agreement with UP makes the military the seatmates of the students. “Showcasing of a number of students who supposedly went underground against precisely these kinds of repression – a proud badge and historical tradition of the school – does not make a case for the defense department to stick its nose into. It practically makes the military the students’ seatmates,” said NUPL president Edre Olalia. – Rainier Allan Ronda, Helen Flores, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Edu Punay, Ding Cervantes, Ralph Edwin Villanueva, Rhodina Villanueva, Evelyn Macairan

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