MILITARY leaders yesterday closed ranks in defense of the decision of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to terminate the 30-year agreement between the Department of Defense (DND) and the University of the Philippines (UP) preventing government troops from conducting operations inside UP campuses all over the country.
Armed Forces chief Gen. Gilbert Gapay said the agreement “runs contrary to public interest.”
“We find this agreement unfair to the Filipino people… We cannot remain bound by an agreement that dictates that we have to seek permission before we can enter UP campuses. We should not be tied to a covenant that requires prior notice before we can effect arrests or searches even if the courts have issued the warrants,” said Gapay.
Contrary to what critics of Lorenzana’s decision has been trumpeting on television and radio, Gapay said the abrogation of the accord was not in violation of the Constitution or any law.
“On the contrary, the termination rectifies what we believe was in fact an infringement of our Constitution. It’s high time that we put an end to a deal which has been taken advantage of by the CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army) in perpetuating their deceptive recruitment,” he said.
In terminating the agreement, Lorenzana told UP president Danilo Concepcion that his decision was grounded on the defense department’s desire to control, if not totally stop, the “clandestine recruitment” being carried out by communist rebels inside UP campuses.
University officials have urged Lorenzana to reconsider his decision, which they said was unwarranted.
Elaborating Gapay’s statement, AFP spokesman Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo said the accord violates the equal protection clause under the Constitution.
“There is no substantial distinction between UP and other schools, state colleges, and universities. To give to UP such entitlement places it an unfairly advantaged status over the academic institutions and defies that Constitutional guarantee of equality of rights and protection under our laws,” said Arevalo.
Arevalo said the agreement’s termination does not mean the loss of the students’ academic freedom.
“The AFP will not interfere in UP’s liberty to choose who may teach, what can be taught, the manner with which it will be taught or who may study in UP. That academic freedom is guaranteed by the Constitution, it does not require enabling laws or any other agreements – certainly not from the voided agreement,” said Arevalo.
Military commanders and key units also aired their support for Lorenzana.
Army chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said: “The Phillipine Army is mandated to serve the people and secure the land. UP compound is a public domain and with the issue at hand, the military should not be prevented in doing their job.”
Sobejana said the Philippine Army “is not against UP’s academic freedom as well as its dissent, progressive acts and peaceful activism. What we are after is to end NPA’s armed struggle wherein they use students for their own advantage. In the name of public service, we are not above nor below you. We are always beside you.”
Navy spokesman Cdr Benjo Negranza said: “The abrogation of the UP-DND accord is not an impairment to academic freedom, freedom of speech, assembly, or redress of grievances.
The PN (Philippine Navy) firmly believes that SND’s (Secretary of National Defense’s) decision was made in good faith and is rooted in the DND and AFP’s concern for the safety of our youth.”
Negranza said the Navy, along with the Armed Forces, “will continue to do its crucial role in preserving peace and harmony, by defending the Filipino nation against terrorism and other forms of threats.”
Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Aristides Galang said: “There is nothing irregular or illegal in this (termination) as UP would be treated as the rest of the Filipinos.”
“Clearly, the termination of the agreement does not diminish academic freedom as UP would still be free to choose who may teach, what to teach, how to teach, and who may be admitted as students. It will not hinder search for truth and pursuit of knowledge. It will not curtail peaceful assembly,” said Galang.
Lt. Gen. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos, commander of the AFP Northern Luzon Command, said the termination of the agreement “does not mean censorship.”
“Academic freedom remains and will always be advocated and safeguarded by the AFP. We want to prevent an instance where there is actual danger and we cannot respond and protect the people. Most if not all of our schools and universities here in Central and Northern Luzon do not have this accord but have grown into fortresses of learning and development,” said Burgos.
Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, commander of the AFP Southern Luzon Command and spokesman of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, said: “We support the abrogation of that accord and make UP and all other schools safer for our children. Enough with the CPP deception in our schools.”
Parlade said the defense department is in the process of discussing actions the military can do inside UP campuses with the abrogation of the agreement.
“That’s still under discussion at the defense level but I’ll tell you right away, we don’t intend to suppress freedom of expression, the academic freedom…There is an ongoing discussion on this but I can already say that we will not do patrolling inside the UP campus, UP compound,” said Parlade.
IMPROVE, NOT DIMINISH
Also yesterday, an “alarmed” Commission on Human Rights urged Lorenzana to reconsider his decision.
In a statement, the CHR said the agreement “serves as an assurance that the freedom to express dissent, to protest, and the exercise of academic freedom will be respected by the government, particularly by the police and military.”
“DND should have appealed to good judgment in expressing concerns to UP and finding ways to move forward, instead of immediately abrogating the accord, in pursuit of the best interest of all,” the CHR said, adding: “The Commission urges the DND to reconsider its position on this matter with the end in mind that the government should always work on improving the people’s enjoyment of their rights, and not diminishing or undermining them.
Suppression of guaranteed rights should never be the response to dissent under a democracy. Protests serve as a gauge on how well a government is responding to the needs of a nation.”
The CHR said finding a solution to the problems besetting the country “will be better if we can think, discuss, and debate freely; when we can hold leaders accountable to the people; and there is respect for human rights at all times.”
On the bill filed by Sen. Joel Villanueva that seeks to institutionalize the DND-UP agreement to the UP Charter, Lorenzana said: “I oppose it and I am ready to go up to the SC (Supreme Court) to defend my action.”