'War on truth': Concrete, collective action sought vs threats to academic freedom
Protesters gather inside the University of the Philippines Diliman campus in Quezon City on June 3, 2020, to protest the passing of the anti-terrorism bill at the House of Representatives.
The STAR/Michael Varcas

'War on truth': Concrete, collective action sought vs threats to academic freedom

Christian Deiparine (Philstar.com) - February 4, 2021 - 7:36pm

MANILA, Philippines — Prominent alumni of the University of the Philippines on Thursday hit threats to academic freedom after the termination of UP's accord with the defense department, as well as the rising cases of red-tagging hurled against students and activists.

Such issues were put on spotlight after the DND without engaging in discussions with the state-run institution ended the decades-long agreement, which bars entry to state forces without prior notifying university administrators. 

The move has since been feared as the latest in what many view as an attack by the administration on those expressing dissent, anchored on unproven claims that UP has become a hotbed of armed communist recruitment.

In a webinar, university alumni sought for a strong pushback on the said allegations as well as "something permanent" to withstand attacks on academic freedom and in turn, on educational institutions.

"We can't just have an episodal collective action like what we're doing now," said economist Solita Monsod, who proposed a nationwide association of university faculty members. "Let's make it permanent so we have institutional memory."

Monsod cited groups in other countries similar to her recommendation, for "when a particular university, maybe their faculty gets so afraid but a union that is just more than a university but of universities is a much stronger organization to deal with.

Those opposing the accord's termination have relayed concerns that academic freedom may be a casualty of the DND's move, along with freedom of expression especially since UP campuses are frequent venues for staging protests, especially at a time when mass gatherings are prohibited due to the pandemic.

UP Diliman Chancellor Fidel Nemenzo said a similar pact should instead be made with all universities to ensure that academic freedom in institutions, not just in UP, "are respected and protected."

"Tama 'yung sinabi ni Secretary Lorenzana. What's so special about UP? We should have the same for all universities," he said. "It's about time we talked with other universities because our concerns are their concerns too."

The UP System's administration has since begun talks with the defense department over the accord, per photos released by the Commission on Higher Education earlier today.

Contents of the meeting were not disclosed, but CHED Chairman Prosero de Vera, who had described the accord as problematic, said it was a good start to keep dialogue ongoing.

But despite pronouncements by Lorenzana that state forces will honor UP's freedoms, Dean Soledad Mawis of Lyceum of the Philippines' College of Law said continuing cases of the military linking individuals as having ties to the CPP-NPA "is the anathema to his verbal assurances."

"The sudden and unilateral abrogation of the UP-DND accord does not reassure safety," she said, "but sows fear in the hearts of the professors and students, moreso when it is done in the effectivity of the much discussed and feared Anti-Terror Law."

Mawis, who was a student activist and leader in her days, added that it is not UP's fault if students had opted to take up arms, a thought echoed by Nemenzo, who said: "What we provide is a learning environment but whatever decisions they make, these are mature students. They take responsibility for their decisions."

CHED chief De Vera has since said that he would form a panel to define academic freedom, with members of the body yet to be announced. And while the DND is unlikely to back down from its decision, measures in Congress have since been filed to institutionalize the long-cherished accord.

Incidents of red-tagging, however, are feared to continue, especially with a senior military official, Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, yet to be held responsible for the many incidents he has figured in on blatantly accusing individuals and institutions without proof.

Joining the discussion, former Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te described the situation in the country as a war on many things: on truth, accountability, and honor and excellence — values embodied by UP as is shown in its motto.

"It's a war on truth right now, so yes we need to stand for that. We need to say, 'anong basehan mo sa sinabi mong 'yan?" he said. "It's a war on accountability. No one is being held accountable for all these untruths, disinformation..it's a war on excellence, arguments that are mediocre are being bandied around as truth. Papayagan ba natin 'yun?"

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: February 12, 2021 - 4:24pm

The Department of National Defense has told the University of the Philippines that is is terminating an agreement that requires the police and military to coordinate with the university administration on entering or holding operations in UP campuses.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the department "is aware that there is indeed an ongoing clandestine recruitment" inside UP campuses and the accord is being used to prevent government from holding operations.

The move has been criticized widely on social media, with many saying it endangers the academic freedom and activism that UP is known for. UP campuses have also been venues for protests on national and social issues. 

Photo: The UP Oblation symbolizes excellence, sacrifice and service for the common good. The STAR, file

February 12, 2021 - 4:24pm

The Department of National Defense says the appeal of UP Diliman's University Student Council to restore the abrogated 1989 DND-UP accord is untimely.

Defense spokesperson Arsenio Andolong points out that discussions between the DND and the UP on the cancellation of the pact have already started.

"Both parties have agreed to sit down again to further express their positions on the issue, and possibly come up with an acceptable deal that would balance legal considerations and moral obligations," Andolong says.

February 8, 2021 - 8:20am

A technical working group will be formed to study a 1992 security agreement between the University of the Philippines and the Department of the Interior and Local Government, DILG spokesperson Jonathan Malaya says.

The agreement prohibits the police to operate on campus grounds without prior notice.

"At first I thought the men who made up the UP police were actually policemen. If these are security guards or security teams, they should be called such and regulated by the PNP. UP police force is not currently regulated by the PNP," Malaya tells ANC's "Headstart."

January 27, 2021 - 11:26am

The police and military should not be in a panel that the Commission on Higher Education says will be tasked with defining academic freedom, Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan says.

The panel will be convened amid backlash against the security sector insistence on entering UP freely to conduct operations against supposed communist rebels.

"Might we ask [CHED Chair Prospero] De Vera, what qualifies the generals of the AFP and PNP as ‘education experts’ that justifies them having a role, a determining role at that, in defining academic freedom?” John Lazaro, SPARK national spokesperson, says in a statement.

“To add, why should they be included in a discussion about academic freedom, while the real stakeholders, the students, professors, and school employees are left out of the discussion?”

January 26, 2021 - 3:24pm

The Quezon City government supports academic freedom in the University of the Philippines and in other colleges and universities in the city, Mayor Joy Belmonte says in a press statement.

"I was a lecturer at the UP before, and I know how important academic freedom is in an educational institution.  True learning will only happen in an environment where there is a free discourse of ideas by all members of the community," she says.

Quezon City is home to UP Diliman as well as to Ateneo de Manila University, both of which have been accused of being recruitment grounds for communist rebels. The two universities — as well as Far Eastern University, University of Santo Tomas and De La Salle University — have rejected the allegations.

"In Quezon City, academic freedom will always be protected and upheld," Belmonte also says.


Disclosure: Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte is a shareholder of Philstar Global Corp., which operates digital news outlet Philstar.com. This article was produced following editorial guidelines.

January 24, 2021 - 4:40pm

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana stands by his decision to abrogate the DND's agreement with the University of the Philippines.

"We stand by our choice to protect our youth and encourage our fellow Filipinos to help us finally end this 50-year war," Lorenzana says.

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