Youth recruitment

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - January 22, 2021 - 12:00am

So what might state security forces be able to do now, following the unilateral abrogation by the Department of National Defense of its coordination agreement with the University of the Philippines?

It seems like the answer is still being fine-tuned. But during the Marcos dictatorship, counterinsurgency intelligence agents of the Armed Forces of the Philippines snatched suspected members and supporters of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) right inside UP campuses.

A ranking official of what was then known as the Philippine Constabulary-Metropolitan Command (PC-Metrocom), whose daughter was a UP student at the time, was aghast and moved to finesse such operations.

Police intelligence agents reached out to the UP security network to coordinate the counterinsurgency drive within the campuses.

UP officials have stressed that the university does not get in the way of law enforcement, and have denied that the country’s premier state university is a haven for enemies of the state. We’re presuming that this means if lawmen are in hot pursuit of crime suspects, the cops can enter UP campuses even without a by-your-leave from the university administration, to apprehend the suspects.

This is a reasonable exercise of state power when it comes to offenses such as homicide, armed robbery or carjacking.

The issue becomes complicated, however, when law enforcers are in hot pursuit of persons wanted for offenses as defined under the controversial Republic Act 11479, the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020. The Anti-Terrorism Council, created under RA 11479, has already classified the CPP and its armed wing the NPA as terrorist groups.

Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, spokesman for the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, told us the other night on OneNews / TV 5’s “The Chiefs” that state forces would not be barging into UP classrooms and hallways to disperse gatherings for seminars sponsored by groups linked by the government to the CPP-NPA.

Parlade could not give details of what the abrogation of the agreement would entail, but he said it would mean improved state monitoring of communist recruitment and other campus activities that advocate armed struggle and the overthrow of the government.

*      *      *

State intelligence agents focusing on counterinsurgency have surely been operating in UP campuses since the founding of the CPP-NPA by UP English literature alumnus Jose Maria Sison. How else can the government conclude that UP is a hotbed of recruitment by communist rebels?

The recruitment, as I have written in previous articles, has been going on since I was a student in UP during martial law. I know several of my schoolmates who joined the NPA or became active supporters. They made little effort to conceal it from us.

But that’s the nature of UP: from left to right to the bizarre and eerie, from extreme to moderate, there are always people trying to influence students during their most impressionable years.

UP has produced several Philippine presidents including the brilliant dictator Ferdinand Marcos, plus the likes of Joma Sison and Moro National Liberation Front chieftain Nur Misuari. There are also military officers with roots in UP: West Pointer Fidel Ramos attended UP high school but transferred. Several products of the Philippine Military Academy spent a year or two in UP before entering the PMA.

So yes, there are always all sorts of groups selling a wide range of ideas and causes at the state university. This free exchange of ideas is what makes a learning institution great.

And for as long as I can remember, state security forces have been monitoring student activities – or more precisely, student activism – in UP.

*      *      *

As UP officials have pointed out, the university does not sponsor or organize communist recruitment or propaganda activities on campus. And if a crime has been committed, they stress that UP will not harbor fugitives.

The government, for its part, is reassuring the public that it does not intend to stifle freedom of expression on campus or criticism of the Duterte administration.

So there’s some confusion on the exact impact of the unilateral abrogation of the deal between the Department of National Defense and UP, hammered out by then DND chief Ramos and then UP president Jose Abueva.

The agreement was forged on June 30, 1989 following the arrest of Donato Continente, a writer in UP’s student publication the Philippine Collegian, at Vinzon’s Hall inside the Diliman campus.

It was described in UP as a kidnapping, but Continente was arrested and subsequently convicted together with Juanito Itaas for the assassination on April 21, 1989 of US Col. James Nicholas Rowe, a decorated Vietnam War veteran who was the chief of the Joint US Military Advisory Group. Rowe was shot dead with his Filipino driver Joaquin Binuya on their way to the JUSMAG headquarters in Quezon City.

Continente and Itaas were sentenced to life in prison for the killings. Acting on an appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed the conviction but deemed Continente as an accomplice and reduced his sentence. He was freed in 2005 after serving 15 years.

*      *      *

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who decided to scrap the deal with UP, has said he is willing to discuss the issue, but only after the university explains the presence of its students in NPA encounters with the military.

It doesn’t look like Lorenzana is about to change his mind. And it looks like this is part of what I have previously noted: an unprecedented crackdown on the communist insurgency and its supporters in the social mainstream.

The crackdown includes freezing the assets and plugging the funding pipelines of groups classified by the Anti-Terrorism Council as supporters of the CPP-NPA. It also includes an aggressive effort to counter communist propaganda, with even students’ parents lured to participate.

Those who are regularly victimized by NPA extortion will likely support the campaign.

Counterinsurgency, however, has an intrinsic component: winning the hearts and minds of the general population. This becomes a stiff challenge when the campaign is seen as an effort to stifle non-violent dissent and free expression, when it becomes linked to social injustice.

It’s no coincidence that the Marcos dictatorship became the best recruiter for the communist insurgency.

This is the risk being taken by the Duterte administration in trying to control the free exchange of ideas in learning institutions.

  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with