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Hard on UP, soft on Communist China?

AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman (The Philippine Star) - January 25, 2021 - 12:00am

There is yet no certainty of UAAP 2021 but the hashtag UPFIGHT is up! Ironically, the battle cry is to defend the premier national State University from the Department of National Defense.

In unilaterally abrogating the 1989 UP-DND agreement, the defense secretary stressed that a number of UP students have been identified as members of the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army, some were even killed during military and police operations, and that there is indeed an ongoing clandestine recruitment inside UP campuses for membership in what was declared by the Anti-Terrorism Council as a terrorist organization.

Allegedly, “the agreement is being used by CPP/NPA recruiters and supporters as a shield or propaganda so that government law enforcers are barred from conducting operations against the CPP/NPA.” Thus, the need to terminate the agreement so that the Department of National Defense could perform its legal mandate to secure the institution and youth against the enemies of the Filipino people.

The secretary further emphasized that it is not their intention to station military or police inside UP campuses or to suppress activist groups, academic freedom and freedom of expression, but “to reach out to the youth and provide them with another perspective on our nation and society.”

At a press conference, the secretary intimated that other schools like Ateneo, La Salle and San Beda have no similar agreements, and asked what is so special about UP. He calls on the UP administration to explain why some of its students are dying in encounters with the military.

In the meantime, the DILG manifested its support for the DND abrogation and has called for a review of its similar 1992 DILG-UP agreement covering the Philippine National Police.

The UP president, in his letter urging the secretary to reconsider the abrogation of the agreement, assures: “Our police and military authorities should have no fear of academic freedom. Indeed, UP has bred rebels and nonconformists – as well as it has bred presidents, senators, congressmen and business, civic, and even military leaders. All the world’s great universities have produced the same range of thinkers and doers. By and large, intellectual and political dissidents in UP have always been in the minority, but it is a critical minority that has historically been vital to the maintenance of a healthy democracy.”

A UP alumnus in Congress has filed a resolution for the conduct of a House inquiry on the unilateral abrogation. On social media, UP defenders call on the Armed Forces to instead perform its legal mandate by protecting our territorial claims in the West Philippine Sea against Communist China’s intrusion rather than wasting its resources in conducting surveillance operations on UP students being recruited by the local communists. One also called on the PMA to explain why it allowed the secretary to graduate from the premier military academy. Some further challenged UP alumni in the Duterte administration to denounce the termination of the agreement. Wow, this will be “war.” And for what?

I have read the agreement, and for one who is not much into the intricacies of legal documents, I think it is more of a “symbolic” instrument with a binding force anchored NOT on law, but on courtesy, respect, understanding and accommodation. To be clear, the agreement does not prohibit the Armed Forces from performing its legal mandate inside UP campuses. There is no need to obtain approval from the university administration, but only prior notification of the conduct of any such military or police operations. This prior notice is obviously to avoid any misunderstanding or misencounter since UP maintains its own security force. Or will prior notice to UP officials compromise the operations?

The agreement even provides that the limitation on the entry of AFP or police personnel shall not apply in case of “hot pursuit” and similar occasions of emergency. Under this theory, a New People’s Army cadre being pursued by the military or police cannot seek refuge and immunity from arrest by running to the UP campus. If a terroristic or any criminal activity is happening in UP or in any school for that matter, an agreement like this one will not stop the police and the AFP from performing their legal mandate.

The abrogated agreement also stipulates non-interference with peaceful protest actions by UP constituents within UP premises as UP officials shall be deemed responsible for the behavior of their students, faculty and employees in such activities. What is wrong with this? Do not our government forces maintain maximum tolerance during protest actions in Mendiola? Why worry about a protest in the seat of free ideas in far Diliman?

Anent the notification and coordination with the UP security force prior to the service of search or arrest warrants on any UP student, faculty, employee or invited participants in any official UP activity, suffice it to state that the same is only “as far as practicable.” In fact, if it is not practicable to notify the UP administration, the agreement only requires a report within 24 hours after the service of the warrant. If they can arrest and notify later, how can this be a problematic and curtailing limitation on the conduct of a police or military operation?

Then there is also a requirement to report any arrest or detention of any UP student, faculty or personnel anywhere in the Philippines, and that they shall not be subjected to custodial investigation without, as far as practicable, prior notice to the UP administration, and in the presence of counsel of choice or appointed for them by UP officials. Republic Act 7438, which defines the rights of persons arrested, detained or under custodial investigation, expressly recognizes the right to counsel in favor of any person, connected or not connected with UP.

So, what’s the big deal? And as highlighted in the secretary’s letter of abrogation, the agreement provides that “nothing herein shall be construed as a prohibition against the enforcement of the laws of the land.” What legal mandate must the AFP or the police do that they cannot perform because of the 1989 agreement? By its own terms, the agreement cannot prevail over the law and it could not stop the enforcement of the law even inside the University of the Philippines. If it has become obsolete as claimed, is it not possible to rewrite it in the same spirit of respect, courtesy, understanding and accommodation that justified its execution in 1989? Why stir up a hornet’s nest?

There is just one thing I find amusing in this brouhaha. It seems our government is really more serious in its bid to stop the perceived recruitment activities of the Communist Party of the Philippines inside the University of the Philippines than to question the occupation of the West Philippine Sea by Communist China. Is it not paradoxical to be hard on the CPP/NPA to the extent of “invading” UP, while appearing to be friendlier to an invading Communist China to the extent of even abrogating the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States of America? Or is this but a smoke screen to divert the attention of activists from the price of the Sinovac vaccine to the unilateral termination of what appears to be a harmless agreement of the past? Abangan!

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