DEFENSE Secretary Delfin Lorenzana yesterday said officials of the University of the Philippines (UP) should first explain the deaths of students who were recruited by communist groups and their front organizations during their terms in the university before he considers a dialogue with them and evaluate his decision to terminate the 1989 agreement that prevents government troops from conducting operations inside UP campuses.
“I am open to a dialogue with them. I am open to talk to him (UP president Danilo Concepcion) but he should first answer why these people died in the company of the NPA (New People’s Army),” Lorenzana said in response to suggestions that he and defense officials and members of the UP management sit down and discuss the concerns of the Department of National Defense (DND) about the supposed unrestricted recruitment allegedly being done by groups linked to the Communist Party of the Philippines in all of the university’s campuses.
Lorenzana provided a list of the names of UP students who he said died during skirmishes between NPA rebels and government forces.
“Explain to me why this happened to them, why they failed to protect these young kids in joining these (rebel) organizations and they got killed. As a parent, I really feel bad that these kids died this way. Explain this. If they can explain that, we will talk. If not, then forget it,” said Lorenzana during a press briefing in Camp Aguinaldo.
He said the students died “under the false ideology that violence is the answer to the ills of our society.”
The list contained the names of some 80 students, with the timeline running to as far back as the 1970s up to the present. They included Josephine Lapira of UP Manila who died in an encounter with soldiers in Nasugbu, Batangas in November 2017; Guiller Martin Cadano of UP Manila who died in an encounter in Nueva Ecija in September 2017; Wendel Gumban of UP Manila who died in July 2016 in Compostela Valley; Rechele Mae Palang of UP Cebu who died in Negros Oriental in September 2018; Myles Albasin of UP Cebu, who died in Negros Orienta in March 2918; Tanya Domingo of UP Manila who died in January 2010 in Bulacan; and John Carlo Capistrano Alberto of UP Los Baños who died in February 2019 in Laguna.
Concepcion, in a letter dated January 19, had asked Lorenzana to reconsider the abrogation of the 1989 DND-UP contract and requested for a dialogue to discuss the issues raised by the defense secretary in his January 15 letter where he announced his decision to end the deal.
Lorenzana downplayed insinuations that the termination of the deal signaled the militarization of UP campuses as he assured university officials and students that security forces will allow “legitimate dissent” in school grounds as long as these are within the bounds of law.
“I assure you, everybody, that we will protect you, we will not abuse our power and will allow you to do legitimate dissent, assembly, whatever… as long as these are within the bounds of the law. It is (only) when you start plotting against the government (that) things will not be good (because) we are the protector of the people, that is our sworn duty, we have a sworn oath that we are going to support and defend the Constitution,” he said.
Lorenzana said his decision to terminate agreement, the idea of which he said he started mulling two years ago, levelled the playing field among all schools in the country.
“All schools should be equal,” said Lorenzana, adding “if we can do it (military operation with prior notice) in Ateneo, why can’t we do it in UP? Why do they (UP) need an agreement on the first place? Let us be fair to everybody here. UP has been favored too much because of this agreement. If they are enjoying this, I think (it should be the same with) Ateneo, De La Salle, San Beda, every school here in Metro Manila so it will be even.There should be equal protection of the law.”
AFP spokesman Maj. Edgard Arevalo, who is himself a UP alumni, appealed to the alumni and the students not to accept hook, line, and sinker the claims that the termination of the agreement will compromise academic freedom.
“There is no academic freedom that will be curtailed or impeded because of the termination of this agreement,” he said, adding: “They need not worry because academic freedom is enshrined in the Constitution, not in this agreement.”
In a statement, former UP president Jose Abueva who signed the agreement in 1989 with then defense secretary Fidel Ramos said: “I am appalled and dismayed about this unilateral abrogation.”
Abueva said he and Ramos “had great respect for each other and for the institutions we represented. We had a deep understanding between us about the inalienable rights to freedom, democracy, justice and peace that lasted beyond our respective presidencies.”
There was a deep, mutual understanding of the need to uphold this agreement and do everything for the good of UP and the rights of its students, faculty and staff. This understanding was rooted in mutual trust, and mutual respect,” said Abueva.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Lorenzana did not consult President Duterte about his decision to terminate the agreement. “As far as I know, he did not. So, it was a decision of the DND as a party to that contract between UP and DND,” Roque said.
Roque, the other day said Lorenzana’s move was supported by the President, and even said that Lorenzana was the President’s alter ego.
Sen. Joel Villanueva yesterday led the filing of a bill which seeks to institutionalize the scrapped 1989 UP-DND agreement to the UP Charter.
“The UP-DND accord is not a ‘do-not-enter’ sign that bars law enforcement from entering the campus. It is not a wall which obstructs justice or deters the solution or prevention of crime. It is unfortunate that its abrogation is being invoked for the wrong reasons.
Implying that it has enabled thinking that is critical to the government is a gross misreading of UP’s role as vanguard of independent thought,” Villanueva said in the explanatory note of Senate Bill 2002.
The measure seeks to amend RA 9500 to include a provision that would prevent the military, police and other law enforcement agencies from entering the premises of UP campuses nationwide “except in cases of hot pursuit and similar occasions of emergency,” or with express permission from university officials specified under the bill.
The bill also sets limits in the service of search or arrest warrants to “any UP student, faculty, employee, or invited participants in any university-sanctioned activity.” The service of warrants and the like “shall only be done after prior notification is given to the U.P. President, Chancellor, Dean of the regional unit, or respective officers-in-charge.”
It likewise proposes that “no UP student, faculty, or employee shall be subjected to custodial investigation without, as far as practicable, prior notice to the UP president or other officials.”
Also, the measure states that the police and military shall not interfere with peaceful protests within the UP premises as it is understood that UP officials are responsible for the behavior of their students, faculty, and employees during such activities.
Aside from Villanueva, the co-authors of the bill include Senators Juan Edgardo Angara, Nancy Binay, and Grace Poe.
At the House, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman filed House Resolution No. 1490 urging the committee on human rights to conduct an inquiry into Lorenzana’s “unilateral abrogation” of the 1989 UP-DND agreement.
Three lawmakers have so far co-authored the measure: Reps. Christopher Belmonte of Quezon City, Lorenz Defensor of Iloilo and Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna party-list.
The resolution said the cancelled accord “protects and upholds the autonomy and academic freedom of the University of the Philippines and its component constituencies from military and police operations without prior notification to and coordination with concerned UP officials.”
It said the unilateral termination of the agreement by the DND without prior consultation with and conformity of UP officials “is illegal and void ab initio because the accord was entered into bilaterally and mutually, and could not be extinguished by one party alone.”
The opposition lawmaker said the termination red-tags the entire nationwide UP constituencies of UP Diliman, UP Manila, UP Los Baños, UP Visayas, the regional units in San Fernando, Tacloban, Ming-ao (Iloilo), Cebu, as well as UP Mindanao in Davao City and other extension units established after the execution of the accord.
The militant Makabayan bloc also filed a separate resolution urging the Lower House to express its sense in favor of the upholding of the 1989 pact.
They said the termination of the agreement “is an affront to civilian institutions and alarming as it could lead again to extensive campus militarization and brazen attacks on human rights.”
The Makabayan bloc is composed of Bayan Muna party-list Reps. Carlos Zarate, Ferdinand Gaite, and Eufemia Cullamat; ACT Teachers party-list Rep. France Castro; Kabataan party-list Rep. Sarah Elago and Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas. – With Jocelyn Montemayor, Raymond Africa and Wendell Vigilia