Filipino lawmakers have stated that the University of the Philippines should protect the University of the Philippines from military and police operations on campus by law, and that this protection should be extended to all public universities and colleges in the country.
In the past few weeks, opposition politicians have submitted a number of relevant bills to the country’s parliament.
Filipino Congresswoman Sarah Elago tabled a resolution this week calling on the House of Representatives to ensure that schools and universities in the country are “zones of peace” that are “free from police and military presence, intervention, harassment and intimidation.”
“It is imperative that members of the House of Representatives … maintain and protect the academic freedom of educational institutions,” she said.
The resolution and series of bills came after the unilateral repeal of an agreement between the University of the Philippines (UP) and the Department of National Defense (DND), known as the UP-DND Agreement, on January 18. The agreement prohibits the presence of the military and police on the UP campus without prior notice to the university authorities.
The 1989 agreement was designed to protect students, faculties, and staff from police and military assaults to suppress dissent and protests on campus. It is seen as a major barrier to the powers of state authorities to interfere in university activities.
National Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana overturned the agreement, calling it “out of date” and “an obstacle to ensuring the effective safety and well-being of UP students, faculties and staff”.
He claimed the 1989 pact was being used by the New People’s Army insurgent group as a “shield” for their “ongoing clandestine recruitment of students for the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army.”
But Elago, from the Kabataan Party or Youth Party, accused security officials of making “widespread and unfounded charges” of radicalization and university and college recruitment by the communist insurgent group.
The police, which was under the Ministry of Defense at the time, were also a party to the UP-DND agreement when they were signed. The police now report to the Ministry of the Interior and Local Government, which has announced that it will maintain the agreement with UP.
Repeal triggers protests
President’s spokesman Harry Roque, himself a former UP law professor, said President Rodrigo Duterte welcomed the Department of Defense’s move. But the unexpected repeal sparked protests on the university campus. The UP system has eight constituent universities across the country.
UP Diliman Chancellor Fidel Nemenzo said during the protests: “If the DND says that it will not send military or police to the UP campus or suppress academic freedom and freedom of expression, why should it revoke the agreement?”
A similar agreement with DND exists with the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, which Lorenzana has announced that it would also revoke as the two universities should not receive “special treatment”.
“Lorenzana is right,” said Nemenzo. “We should make the same agreement for all universities so that academic freedom is respected at all universities.”
“It is time to speak to other universities. Our concerns are their concerns, too, ”said Nemenzo.
On February 6th, UP alumni and supporters gathered on the university campus in Diliman, Quezon City, to launch the #DefendUP network, uniting the UP community’s efforts to uphold and defend academic freedom.
“We share the common principle that UP is and must remain a safe space for free thinking, expression, criticism and dissent,” said the network.
“We agree that we will uphold the UP-DND agreement of 1989 and demand its reinstatement,” added the new network group.
A number of new bills
It has not escaped legislature that the Philippine Congress may include or legally extend an equivalent measure in the charter of all state universities and colleges, including the UP, to protect academic freedom.
In the past few weeks, legislators have tabled a number of new bills to institutionalize the 1989 agreements and protect academic freedom.
Four Senators, Sonny Angara, Nancy Binay, Grace Poe, and Joel Villanueva, tabled a bill to amend the UP Charter of Laws and incorporate the agreement into their statutes to protect them from repeal.
Others tried to enshrine the agreement in law and to extend it to all state universities and colleges.
The Makabayan Bloc or the People’s Patriotic Coalition, which also includes civil society organizations, grassroots groups and trade unions, submitted bills to the House of Representatives to institutionalize the UP-DND agreement in the UP charter and extend it to all universities in the country .
In late January, Senator Francis Pangilinan, president of the center-left Liberal Party, tabled a broader law on academic freedom that would ban unauthorized police or military operations in all state universities and colleges.
“All colleges, especially all state universities and colleges, should be centers of free thought,” said Pangilinan when the bill was submitted on January 26th.
The proposed law would give the administrations of state universities “primary responsibility” for maintaining order at their sites, including allowing uniformed personnel to enter their premises.
The bill states that operations by uniformed personnel would only be permitted after prior consultation with the institutions’ administrations, although in the event of “pursuit and similar emergencies” or in cases of “normal transit” the personnel could enter the campus through the premises “.
No university or college student, faculty or employee should be subject to investigation or detention without a warrant and prior notification to the relevant university official.
The law also provides for penalties if it is legally signed. According to the draft, a breach of the regulations would result in an “administrative liability” which would be “considered serious if such non-compliance results in serious personal injury or death to a student, faculty, employee or guest” of a state university or college State leads college.
Another bill was tabled in the Senate by opposition Senator Leila de Lima, which would make the 1989 UP-DND agreement to protect the university’s academic freedom effective and permanent.
“This bill prohibits on-campus military operations except in conditions of lawless violence, invasion or rebellion and during civil defense operations at the invitation of the UP authorities,” she said.
It is also designed to ensure that “the exchange and expression of ideas is free from intimidation by government coercion” within university campuses.
The need to protect students, staff and faculties from police harassment, which is included in Elago’s resolution and De Lima’s bill, is related to and goes beyond the use of red-tagging or the designation of universities as communist recruitment centers Reintroduction of the UP-DND in addition to the agreement to protect academic freedoms.
In recent years, according to civil society groups, Duterte officials have red-tagged many of their critics and accused them of being communists.
The country’s National Task Force to End the Communist Armed Conflict named around 30 universities as recruiting centers for the New People’s Army. The red tagging list includes the top universities UP, Ateneo de Manila University, and De La Salle University.
Talks between DND and UP
The Senate passed a resolution on January 26th calling on DND and UP to reconsider their 1989 agreement and calling for dialogue between the parties.
Talks between DND officials and the UP began on February 4th and were brokered by the Chairman of the Commission on Higher Education, Prospero de Vera, himself a former UP professor. The aim of the discussions was to find a common ground for resolving DND security concerns regarding the campus and UP’s determination to protect academic freedom.
Even coming to the table for a dialogue with UP has been viewed by some legislators as a “step backwards” on its earlier one-sided stance.
In reinstating the agreement, however, Lorenzana only publicly said that he would “think about it”.
DND spokesman Arsenio Andolong said on February 5 that during the talks the DND “expressed its openness to listen to the position of the UP administration”. He added that the talks would continue “as we find ways to develop and strengthen our collaboration with academic institutions across the country”.
Andolong said the DND is also “hopeful that members of the UP community will be open to working with us to ensure our youth do not fall victim to those who lead them down the path of lawlessness and destruction.”