DEFENSE Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has agreed to sit down with officials of the University of the Philippines (UP) and clear up issues in relation to his decision to terminate a 1989 agreement that prevents soldiers and policemen from conducting operations inside UP campuses without prior notice to school officials.
“I have asked a friend to facilitate my meeting with Atty. Concepcion sometime next week,” Lorenzana said, referring to UP president Danilo Concepcion who has earlier requested Lorenzana for a dialogue and to reconsider his decision.
On Wednesday, Lorenzana told a press conference in Camp Aguinaldo that UP officials should first explain the death of UP students, whom he said were recruited by New People’s Army (NPA) rebels during encounters with soldiers, before entertaining a dialogue with them.
Asked what prompted him to reconsider, Lorenzana said: “I listen to advise. I said I was open to dialogue.”
Pressed who convinced him to have a meeting with Concepcion, Lorenzana replied: “A lot of people whom I respect.”
In a message posted on his social media accounts, Lorenzana justified his decision to end the 1989 pact, which had earned criticisms mostly from UP alumni and students and left-leaning groups, but is solidly backed by military and police leaders.
“Abrogating the DND agreement with UP is a fulfillment of a patriotic duty even though it’s an unpopular move. My intentions are pure, my goal is simple: to minimize the threat to the youth,” said Lorenzana, adding: “Some of you may see this as a rash decision, but the numerous testimonies and grueling experiences presented to me by former NPA rebels prompted me to issue this.”
Lorenzana, a retired Army major general, said he had witnessed atrocities carried by rebels, whom he claimed “prey on our children’s idealism and vulnerability even costing them their own lives.”
“I have been fighting for this country all my life as a soldier. Our problem with the CPP-NPA has been with us for 52 years. Help me fix this, let us talk and find ways to end this insurgency once and for all. Let us work together and move forward,” said Lorenzana.
Lorenzana said the Armed Forces will apologize to lawyer Rafael Aquino who was included in a military list of around 80 UP students who supposedly have been either killed or arrested since the 1970s. Lorenzana showed the list during a press conference last Wednesday.
Aquino has demanded an apology from the Armed Forces for including his name in the list.
Though he said he was a student of UP, he denied that he was ever involved in any activities of the NPA or was arrested by authorities.
The military list said Aquino was arrested during a rally at the Liwasang Bonifacion on October 7, 1981.
“Yes, the AFP will apologize. What reason will they give? I do not know. It’s an unpardonable gaffe,” said Lorenzana.
As of 5:30 p.m. Sunday, the Armed Forces or its spokesman, Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, has yet to issue a statement apologizing to Aquino.
Relatedly, the management of Far Eastern University, De la Salle University, University of Sto. Tomas and Ateneo de Manila University belied renewed allegations by Southern Luzon Command chief Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade that the four universities are among the 18 “recruitment grounds” of the NPA.
“This charge, though, is really getting old – a rehash of the public accusation the general made in 2018 – irresponsibility since cast without proof,” said FEU president Michael Alba, De La Salle University president Raymundo Suplido, UST vice rector Isaias Tiongco, and Ateneo de Manila University president Roberto Yap in a joint statement.
In a radio interview on Saturday, Parlade, also the spokesman of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, said the 18 schools also included UP and the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.
In the statement, the FEU, De La Salle, UST and Ateneo they “neither promote nor condone recruitment activities of the New People’s Army and, indeed, of any movement that aims to violently overthrow the government.”
“We take as sacred trust our primary responsibilities to promote learning and safeguard the rights of the young who are entrusted to our care. We are committed to this mission and have always held ourselves accountable to our primary constituents, the learners, and by extension, their parents,” they added.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan said the AFP’s tagging of prominent UP graduates as “communists” only undermines the military’s professionalism and gives it a bad name.
In a statement, Pangilinan said it was disappointing that a number of military officials have tainted the organization’s image by tagging UP alumni as “the communists that the University of the Philippines produced” which he said only placed these people’s lives in great danger.
Pangilinan lamented that a few military officials have been politicizing the issue after the UP-DND accord was abrogated.
“We cannot afford to have a politicized and unprofessional AFP. Let us not forget that it was the glaring lack of professionalism in the AFP that caused it to turn against itself during the last years of the Marcos regime. We trust the military to be independent and guided by their mandate to serve and protect the people,” Pangilinan said.
He said tagging the UP alumni as members of the NPA only goes to show that the military is bent on claiming that the state university is the center of the communist movement.
“This is part of the attempt to label UP as center of communist rebels. These careless allegations are dangerous as they put at risk the safety and lives of those on the list…Those in the military who are doing this must stop the practice of red-tagging. Falsely labelling people makes them target of harassment and worst, killings,” he added. – With Raymond Africa