University of the Philippines president Danilo Conception talks to the press on Jan. 19 during a protest against the breaking of an accord barring state forces from the university’s campuses. (Photo courtesy of Sophia Sibal of the Philippine Collegian)
Administrators and students at the Philippines’ national university have condemned the Defense Department’s termination of an agreement that requires state forces to seek permission from the university before they can enter its campuses.
Established in 1908, the University of the Philippines has built a reputation of academic excellence as well as for dissent against rights abuses.
The institution has been critical of President Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial anti-terrorism law, which critics say gives the government more oppressive powers, and of extrajudicial killings.
“The department finds this agreement a hindrance to providing effective security, safety and welfare for the students, faculties and employees of the UP,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a letter to the university president.
He also claimed the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines was secretly recruiting on university campuses.
“Recent events undeniably show that a number of UP students have been identified as members of the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army (CPP/NPA),” Lorenzana said
“Some of them were killed during military operations [and] recruited by the CPP/NPA, an organization declared … as a terrorist organization.”
He said security forces did not intend to build police or military posts on the university’s campuses to suppress academic freedom and free speech.
“The Department of National Defense has nothing to gain from suppressing these rights and freedoms as it will only alienate it further from the people … We want their armed forces and police worthy of trust, not fear,” Lorenzana said.
The move, seen as an attempt to enable security forces to enter campuses freely to intimidate and make arrests, saw students stage protests on Jan. 19.
University president Danilo Conception called the termination of the agreement “totally unwarranted.”
“I must express our grave concern over this abrogation as it is totally unnecessary and unwarranted and may result in worsening rather than improving relations between our institutions, and detract from our common desire for peace, justice and freedom in our society,” Conception replied.
He said the agreement between the university and state forces was imbued with the highest sense of fidelity.
“It was grounded in an atmosphere of mutual respect, which we were able to maintain for 30 years through the observance of good faith in its provisions. The agreement never stood in the way of police and security forces conducting lawful operations on our campuses. Entry was always given when necessary to law enforcers within their mandate, Conception said.
“We regret that the agreement was abrogated unilaterally without prior consultation that would have addressed the concerns you raised in your letter. Instead of instilling confidence in our police and military, your decision can only sow more confusion and mistrust, given that you have not specified what it is that you exactly aim to do or put in place in lieu of the protections and courtesies afforded by the agreement.”
A Christian youth group in the Philippines also condemned the Defense Department’s move.
“[This] presages state intrusion into the Philippine academe, in general. Uninhibited entry of state forces into school grounds … encroaches on our academic freedom,” the Kalipunan ng Kristiyanong Kabataan group said in a statement.