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UP-DND accord rooted in mutual trust, respect

AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo (The Philippine Star) - January 23, 2021 - 12:00am

“Appalled and dismayed” was how the eminent political scientist Jose V. Abueva, former president of the University of the Philippines, described his reaction after Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana unilaterally terminated an agreement that for more than 30 years had kept the peace between the country’s premier university and the defense establishment.

It was in 1989 that Abueva and then defense secretary Fidel V. Ramos signed the accord, which bars police and military forces from entering any UP campus without prior notification to university authorities.

It was based on mutual trust and respect both for the signatories and the institutions they represented, Abueva stressed, and aimed to last beyond the signatories’ terms of office.

Until Lorenzana arbitrarily ended it. Writing to UP president Danilo Concepcion on Jan. 15, Lorenzana claimed that the state university had become “a safe haven for enemies of the state.” Without citing any proof, he further alleged “an ongoing clandestine recruitment inside UP campuses nationwide for membership in the Communist Party of the Philipppines/New People’s Army.”

His claim has since been widely disputed and denounced, and not only by the UP authorities, faculty, and students. At least four senators filed a bill, amending the UP charter to include a provision that would make it state policy to ban soldiers and policemen from the university’s campuses nationwide, thus institutionalizing the 1989 agreement.

In the bill’s explanatory note, the authors – Sens. Joel Villanueva, Sonny Angara, Nancy Binay and Grace Poe – wrote:

“We believe that the DND should not break the agreement with UP. Our role as legislators is to ensure that the spirit of the 1989 accord is protected and set in stone to ensure that our students are protected from unreasonable state intrusion.”

The senators’ move reflects Abueva’s and Ramos’ mutual understanding of what the 1989 agreement signifies.

“Former president Fidel V. Ramos and I had great respect for each other and for the institutions we represented,” Abueva wrote. “We had a deep understanding between us about the inalienable rights to freedom, democracy, justice and peace that lasted beyond our respective presidencies.

“There was a deep mutual understanding of the need to uphold this agreement and do everything for the good of UP and the rights of its students, faculty and staff. This understanding was rooted in mutual trust and mutual respect.”

Now note the different tone and content of Lorenzana’s statement during a DND press briefing last Wednesday.

Reacting to public demands that he reconsider his unilateral action and enter into a dialogue with UP president Concepcion, Lorenzana set one condition: that the university authorities explain to him the alleged involvement of UP students in the communist insurgency. (His office reportedly released to the media the names of 20 supposed former UP students who had allegedly died in armed encounters with forces.) Speaking in a tone that seemed to come from Malacañang, he demanded: “Why did they fail to protect these young kids? I feel sad for these kids. If they can explain that, we can talk. If not, they can forget it.”

“An absurd proposition,” commented the Inquirer in its editorial yesterday on Lorenzana’s condition for a dialogue. The editorial explains:

“What students of legal age do with their lives and abilities is ultimately their own business. Why should their decisions and fates outside of school be UP’s accountability? By that logic, would Lorenzana also explain and take responsibility for why the Philippine Military Academy has produced its considerable share of corrupt law enforcement officials, plunderers, human rights violators, coup plotters, etc.?”

The editorial went further to say that Lorenzana’s termination of the UP-DND accord “at this time, without warning to the other party, smacks of yet more diversion and repression.” It pointed out that public sentiment simmers over the Duterte government’s “inept handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine response… the rot in PhilHealth, the draconian anti-terrorism law, the revived Cha-cha attempt, the unabated killings and impunity among the police.”

Against these rampant social ills, “young Filipinos – UP students, particularly – have been among the fiercest, most vocal objectors,” it noted, adding that tearing up the UP-DND accord not only throws a smokescreen for the administration’s misdeeds, “but may also signal open season for state forces to intensify targetting dissenting voices and critical thought in the country’s campuses.”

As if on cue, The STAR’s front page yesterday reported: “AFP to monitor UP groups for ‘terroristic’ activities’.” The headline story cited Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, spokesman of the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), as saying state enforcers can apply the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 against organizations believed to be conducting illegal activities inside classrooms and halls of UP. Actual military operations inside the UP, the news report said, were still up for discussion, according to Parlade.

In her Thursday column in The STAR business page, Iris Gonzales mused: “Whatever the Duterte administration’s reason for junking the…accord, it should remember that activism is not a crime and students learning to think critically should never be considered enemies.”

She revealed: “I consider my years in UP among the best years of my life and the freedom it gave me to think beyond the four corners of the classroom has molded me into the journalist that I am now.”

Like many others increasingly, she reflected that “when the government loses in the war of ideas, it turns to repression and excessive use of power,” adding that “what it should address instead are the sources of dissent – bad governance, social injustice, income inequality, corruption and poverty, among others.”

Reading that threw my thoughts back half a century ago, when I was an assistant business editor of the old Manila Times, whose publisher was Joaquin “Chino” Roces. I also wrote weekend commentaries then – practically on the same socio-economic ills that Iris Gonzales cited. It just attests to the truth that the succession of administrations in our country have failed to meaningfully address the social ills at the root of the armed conflict and intensifying political dissent, running for over 50 years now.

Kudos to Iris for her other notable observation: “Perhaps our authorities have forgotten the lessons from the Marcos years – that the biggest recruiter of the armed rebellion was the regime itself. The late dictator’s suppression of freedom – as what the government is again doing – has fed the communist insurgency then, and will do so now.”

To Lorenzana et al: Heed the lessons from the Marcos years. And don’t red-tag Iris Gonzales and other journalists who share her views, particularly those of the current generation.

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Email: satur.ocampo@gmail.com

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