BY WENDELL VIGILIA, RAYMOND AFRICA and VICTOR REYES
VARIOUS sectors yesterday denounced the decision of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to unilaterally terminate a 1989 agreement between the Department of National Defense (DND) and the University of the Philippines (UP) that prevents government forces from conducting operations inside UP campuses all over the country without prior notice to university officials.
The protests – which likewise included opposition from the UP community and the political opposition – rang out even as President Duterte and police chief Gen. Debold Sinas backed Lorenzana’s decision.
In yet another clash of opinion, Vice President Leni Robredo and opposition lawmakers said the termination of the agreement has only raised concerns that even college campuses will now be militarized in the government’s effort to clamp down on legitimate dissent.
Robredo said the unilateral scrapping of the decades-old accord sends the message that under this administration, “anyone, anywhere, at anytime, is fair game… Clearly, then, this is not a practical gesture, but a symbolic one. One designed to sow fear. One designed to discourage dissent. One designed to silence criticism. It is now up to us to decide whether we will give in. Or whether, at long last, we will stand our ground and speak out.”
Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon, a UP alumna, said the decision only “heightened the tension” between the government and its critics.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan, also a UP graduate, said the university “has always been and will always be a citadel of freedom and democracy.”
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said now that the pact was terminated, the security sector should come up with an agreement with the state university on boundaries to be observed to prevent the move from negatively affecting the culture of academic freedom enjoyed by UP.
Lacson, Senate national defense committee chair, also cautioned the security sector that it might be overstepping its bounds if the decision to end the pact is aimed at muzzling the academic and other freedoms enjoyed by the UP community.
Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, also a UP graduate, said prior consultation with stakeholders should have been made before terminating the agreement.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, the leader of the opposition at the House, said the Duterte administration “has gone berserk as it is now open season for the military invasion of UP campuses.”
Kabataan party-list Rep. Sara Elago said “this brazen step signals intensified attacks on academic freedom and increasing violations of human rights of students, teachers and education stakeholders amid the Duterte regime’s tyranny.”
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Ferdinand Gaite warned that the scrapping of the accord may result in human rights violations including illegal surveillance and warrantless arrests of students and professors.
Even Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Michael Defensor, who is allied with the administration, opposed the DND’s move, saying he was hoping that the DND “will come to realize that it just created a problem where there used to be none.”
In a January 15 letter to UP president Danilo Concepcion, Lorenzana said the abrogation of the agreement was meant to stop the supposed “clandestine recruitment” by the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army in the various campuses of the state university.
“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, some of them were killed during military and police operations while others were captured and surrendered to the authorities,” Lorenzana said, adding: “By reason of national security and safety of UP students, this department intends to remedy this situation by terminating or abrogating the existing agreement in order for us to perform our legal mandate of protecting our youth against CPP/NPA recruitment activities whose design and purpose is to destroy the democracy we have all fought for.”
The agreement was signed by then defense secretary Fidel Ramos and then UP president Jose Abueva on June 30, 1989. It states that prior notification shall be given to AFP, PC-INP or the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit personnel intending to conduct any military or police operation inside UP campuses.
In a statement, Lorenzana said “the agreement has become obsolete” because “UP has become the breeding ground of intransigent individuals and groups whose extremist beliefs have inveigled students to join their ranks to fight against the government. The country’s premier state university has become a safe haven for enemies of the state.”
Concepcion, in a letter to Lorenzana dated January 19, asked the defense chief to reconsider his decision.
“I must express our grave concern over this abrogation, as it is totally unnecessary and unwarranted… 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,” said Concepcion.
Concepcion said UP sought the signing of the agreement in 1989 “not to evade or weaken the law, but to protect the climate of academic freedom – guaranteed by the Constitution – that makes intellectual inquiry and human and social advancement possible… 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.”
Concepcion urged Lorenzana to “reconsider and revoke your abrogation, and request further that we meet to discuss your concerns in the shared spirit of peace, justice, and the pursuit of excellence.”
Duterte supports the move of Lorenzana, who is his alter ego, presidential adviser Harry Roque said in a virtual briefing. “Secretary Lorenzana is an alter ego of the President. Of course, the President supports the decision of Secretary Lorenzana,” he said.
Sinas said it was proper to terminate the agreement because “(it) did not serve the best interest of public order and security in all 30 years that the accord was in effect.”
Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, an administration ally, said the move was “long overdue. The government was fooled by the CPP-NPA-NDF in the last 31 years through that agreement.” – With Jocelyn Montemayor