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House probe sought on unilateral termination of UP-DND accord
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

House probe sought on unilateral termination of UP-DND accord

Xave Gregorio (Philstar.com) - January 20, 2021 - 10:06am

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 11:21 a.m.) — Lawmakers led by Rep. Edcel Lagman (Albay) are calling for a House probe on the unilateral termination of the Department of National Defense (DND) of its agreement with the University of the Philippines (UP) that bars state forces from entering its campuses without prior notice to university officials.

Lagman said Reps. Jose Christopher Belmonte (Quezon City), Lorenz Defensor (Iloilo), and Carlos Zarate (Bayan Muna party-list) joined his call for the House human rights committee to investigate the abrogation of the agreement, and he expects more lawmakers to back House Resolution No. 1490.

“It is now open season for the military and police invasion of UP campuses in the guise of upholding national security and maintaining peace and order,” Lagman said in the resolution. 

“The unilateral cancellation of the subject accord is fraught with emerging violations of academic freedom, civil liberties, and fundamental rights protected and enshrined in the Constitution,” he added.

Lagman contended that the DND’s unilateral abrogation of the pact is “illegal and void ab initio” as the agreement was entered into bilaterally and mutually.

The leftist Makabayan bloc, meanwhile, filed a House resolution that seeks to express the view of the chamber that to uphold the UP-DND accord and academic freedom of all educational institutions.

"Schools should be safe spaces and zones of peace that are free from police and military presence and intervention, harassment and intimidation," the six lawmakers of the bloc said in House Resolution No. 1491.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who terminated the decades-old agreement, said Wednesday that the move is "not meant to restrict freedom or a taking over of your space, this is us taking a step forward to strengthen our fight against the enemies and protect the UP community."

Government officials, including President Rodrigo Duterte, have accused UP of being a recruitment ground for communist rebels, an allegation that university officials have repeatedly countered.

RELATED: Tagged again for 'recruiting communists', UP explains what it actually does

Students at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines have scheduled a protest Wednesday morning against a move to scrap a similar agreement covering the PUP system.

Change the UP charter?

The unilateral termination of the agreement, feared to encroach on the academic freedom of the UP which has served as a bastion of student activism, earned widespread disapproval from senators and a number of House lawmakers.

During Tuesday’s plenary session, Belmonte floated the possibility of amending the UP charter to include the restrictions laid down in its accord with the DND.

“Our hands are not yet tied,” Belmonte said in Filipino while interpellating Rep. Sarah Elago (Kabataan party-list). “We can, by law, change the UP charter, right? So that those provisions [in the accord] are enshrined in the charter of UP.”

Whether the House, dominated by President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies, would take this action to counter a move which Malacañang said had the blessing of the chief executive remains to be seen.

Lorenzana, in a letter to UP President Danilo Concepcion, said the agreement between their institutions on the entry of state forces into the country’s premier state university is terminated effective January 15.

Concepcion expressed “grave concern” over the unilateral termination, calling it “totally unnecessary and unwarranted,” and requested Lorenzana to reconsider and revoke the DND’s abrogation.

In justifying the termination, the defense chief again used unsubstantiated accusations that there is an “ongoing clandestine recruitment” inside UP campuses and the deal is being used to bar the government from holding operations in the schools.

But Lagman pointed out that any alleged recruitment cannot happen as UP students are not in their campuses due to the pandemic.

The accord was signed in 1989 between then UP President Jose Abueva and defense chief Fidel Ramos and also holds that military and police cannot enter any UP campus "except in cases of hot pursuit and similar occasions of emergency" or when assistance is requested by university officials.

An earlier agreement, the 1982 Soto-Enrile accord between student leader Sonia Soto and then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, was signed to protect the autonomy of the university from military intervention, especially in protests. — with a report from Kristine Joy Patag

DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL DEFENSE EDCEL LAGMAN HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES UNIVERSITY OF THE PHILIPPINES
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