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DND says to 'allow legitimate dissent' even with accord with UP scrapped

Philstar.com
DND says to 'allow legitimate dissent' even with accord with UP scrapped
Actress Mae Paner, also known as Juana Change, attends a protest along University Avenue in UP Diliman in July 2020 dressed as presidential spokesman Harry Roque when he previously frolicked with dolphins in Subic despite quarantine measures.
The STAR / Boy Santos, file

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of National Defense will "allow legitimate dissent" despite its termination of an agreement requiring security forces to coordinate with University of the Philippines officials on operations in its campuses, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Wednesday.

Lorenzana made the statement at a press conference to address public outcry over the termination of a 1989 accord that was signed after a UP student was taken from campus and later accused of involvement in murder.

"We will allow you to do legitimate dissent, assemblies. Whatever. You can tweet. We don't care about that as long as it is within the bounds of the law," he said partly in Filipino. He said abuse by military personnel would not be allowed.

Lawmakers from both chambers of Congress have urged the government to rethink the move, saying it unecessarily raises tensions and reduces democratic space. UP, which has a tradition of activism and involvement in social issues, has also been a venue for protests, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, where mass gatherings are prohibited.

National Union of People's Lawyers president Edre Olalia on Tuesday noted that police and military personnel had been “lurking inside the campus for the longest time” despite the supposed need to coordinate with UP authorities.

He said, however, that the termination of the UP-DND accord will definitely affect how UP is as a safe space for protest actions.

As UP officials need not be informed before state forces enter the campus, “will uniformed security now go in and out without safeguards and oversight?,” Olalia told Philstar.com.

Olalia added: “Will they now install CCTVs in every street corner inside campus? Will they set up checkpoints as they please? Will they sit in uninvited in lectures, fora, symposia and colloquia?”

Lorenzana said that the government has no problem with criticism and dissent but said that "it is when you begin plotting against the government, then that's not good."

He also dismissed concerns that the scrapping of the agreement would bring a "chilling effect" on dissent, pointing out that other schools do not have their versions of the accord with UP. 

A similar agreement covers the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, students of which held a protest on Wednesday morning.

Sorsogon Gov. Francis Escudero, a lawyer and UP graduate, on Wednesday agreed that it was unfair that UP and PUP had protections against police and military presence on campus.

"So why not enter into a similar pact with all the other universities or, better yet, pass a law that will guarantee this to all universities instead of abrogating these two.," Escudero, a former senator, said on his Facebook account.

Government actions against protesters

The move to scrap the agreement with UP is part of the government's campaign against the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People's Army, which Lorenzana said UP has become a "safe haven" and recruitment ground for.

Although the government says it is not clamping down on dissent, the police have arrested protesters throughout the community quarantine.

During President Rodrigo Duterte's State of the Nation Address last year, police arrested members of transport group PISTON who were on the way to a protest at UP's Diliman campus. That same day, Manila police confiscated banners at a Mass in Quiapo Church that were to be used at a press conference against the anti-terrorism law afterwards.

Police have also arrested activists conducting a food relief drive and labor organizers who held an online protest.

Arrests and dispersals of members of groups that the government accuses of being communist fronts are attempts to silence dissent, rights monitors as well as activist groups said.

RELATED: Labeling dissent as rebellion 'institutionalized, normalized' in Philippines — UN report | PNP chief: We 'tolerate' protests in UP, but don't exercise your freedom too much

Roque: No problem with unilateral termination of UP-DND Accord

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque on Wednesday said he sees no legal issue with the unilateral abrogation of the agreeement with UP.

Lawyers Theodore Te, also a former Supreme Court spokesman, and Chel Diokno, founding dean of De La Salle University's College of Law, have both raised issues with the move, saying that contracts are binding on both parties and that their enforcement cannot be left solely to one side.

But Roque, a graduate and former professor of the school, said this was not the case for the 1989 UP-DND Accord. "I don't think mutuality is required [to terminate the contract between DND and UP] and I'm speaking as a lawyer," he told CNN Philippines' "The Source" on Wednesday.

Roque also said that "only contracts supported by consideration," or the exchange of something of value for service, "cannot be unilaterally terminated."

"This is also an unusual contract, its an extraordinary contract, its an act of beneficence of the state in the sense that it suspends the exercise of jurisdiction in a given territory," he added.

"Everything else, if it's bilateral, if it's for cause, then it can be terminated."

READ: What prompted the signing of the UP-DND accord in 1989?

Te, in an interview with ANC's "Matters of Fact" earlier Tuesday, said that the lack of a provision on abrogation and the unilateral termination by the DND means that the issue is now "a legal question to be decided by someone outside of the parties."

"Of course, my opinion here...is that it cannot be abrogated by one side." he also said. This same opinion is held by Diokno and Sen. Sonny Angara who is also a UP graduate.

Although he sees no legal issue with the agreement's termination, Roque says it is his personal opinion that dialogue between UP and DND should take place. "I would say that if it worked for 30 years, let's talk [about] why it should not continue for another 30 years."

"Being a UP graduate and UP professor myself, I even offer my good office if they need assistance in discussing this matter," he also said.

Since the abrogation was reported by the Philippine Collegian, UP's student publication, on Monday, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives have voiced either opposition or concern, warning against the escalation of tensions between students and the government as well as the further shrinking of democratic space.

Eight senators formally registered their objections, filing a resolution urging the entire Senate to do the same and urging dialogue between UP and DND.

Students and some House members also trooped to UP on Monday to protest the move, according to reports from the Philippine Collegian and Ateneo de Manila University's student publication The GUIDON— Bella Perez-Rubio and Jonathan de Santos

DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL DEFENSE HARRY ROQUE UNIVERSITY OF THE PHILIPPINES
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