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‘UP is just the front act’: Red-tagged UP alumni believe military harassment will continue

By Tanya Lara Published Jan 27, 2021 8:23 am Updated Jan 27, 2021 8:46 am

Is “military intelligence” in the Philippines an oxymoron?

On Jan. 25, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) apologized for releasing a list of supposed members of the New People’s Army (NPA)—“dead or jailed”—with the caption “Let’s protect UP from NPA terrorists.”

The list had 21 names on it including University of the Philippines (UP) alumni who are neither dead nor jailed. Even as the AFP Information Exchange deleted its Facebook post, it had already spread like wildfire on social media.

The AFP’s dismal military intelligence is unfortunately funded by taxpayers’ money—to the tune of P186 billion in 2020, and P205.8 billion in 2021.

Online panel with six of the red-tagged UP alumni the military said are "dead or jailed." They are neither. 

This came a week after the Department of National Defense (DND) unilaterally abrogated the agreement with the university barring state forces from entering UP campuses without permission from the school administration.

UP Chancellor Fidel Nemenzo said, “After all the millions poured into military intelligence, I do not understand how they came up with a list like this.”

“It’s sloppy, it’s dangerous,” added lawyer Alex Padilla, who has been red-tagged by the AFP. “It’s a crackdown on dissent itself. It’s not just UP, it’s other schools too, and it will overflow to the rest of society. UP is just the front act. These things are all connected—the Anti-Terror Act, the UP-DND Accord, and the AFP list.”

Lawyer Alex Padilla: It’s a crackdown on dissent itself. It’s not just UP, it’s other schools too, and it will overflow to the rest of society.

Lawyer JV Bautista remarked, “They’re so incompetent they can’t even get it right. This will continue with Duterte in power. The only solution is 2022 (elections).”

Nemenzo articulated what every UP student, alumnus or parent feels, that the presence of military on campus has a chilling effect and creates an atmosphere of fear. “UP grads are in a range of discipline and professions, they have excelled in many fields and we owe our success to the academic freedom that UP gave us. Ngayon pa lang marami nang natatakot. Especially military action is based on this kind of intelligence.”

“It’s all orchestrated and it’s not going to be a restful year, aside from COVID still being here,” Padilla said.

Never with the NPA

On Jan. 23, six of the red-tagged people on the AFP list gathered in an online forum moderated by investigative journalist Malou Mangahas.

They said that while they were activists during their UP years (‘70s to ‘80s), they were never with the NPA and are obviously alive. Now in their 50s and 60s, some of them served in government under various administrations prior to the current one.

Diliman Commune, February 1971, when UP barricaded the campus to block state forces. Photo from The University of the Philippines: A University for Filipinos
UP-DND Accord termination, January 2021. Both photos taken in Diliman campus, fighting military encroachment, 50 years apart. Photo by Boy Santos/Philippine Star

Lawyer Alex Padilla, journalist Roel Landingin, playwright Lisa Magtoto, former DENR Undersecretary Elmer Mercado, lawyer Raffy Aquino, and social entrepreneur Marie Liza Dacanay said the AFP red-tag has disrupted their lives and put their families in peril.

“What the AFP did is despicable. They are playing cavalierly with our lives. None of us deserves this,” Padilla said. The lawyer worked in government for more than 20 years, at the Bureau of Customs, DOH, DILG and PhilHealth.

He said it was both funny and sad that he was included on the list because he actually chaired a panel negotiating with the communists in a previous administration.

“Nakaka-high blood and it’s psychological aggravation,” Palanca awardee Lisa Magtoto said, as she urged people to remain vigilant and critical of government wrongdoings.

For Magtoto, theater was the outlet; she wrote the hit musical Rak of Aegis and is currently working on Bongga Ka Day featuring the songs of Hotdog band.

Lawyer Raffy Aquino of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), who spent 12 years in UP from high school to law school, said in jest, “Twenty-five years na akong Rotarian—wala na sigurong lalayo pa sa NPA kaysa Rotary International.”

UP Chancellor Fidel Nemenzo: After all the millions poured into military intelligence, I do not understand how they came up with a list like this.

Aquino represents through FLAG one of 37 groups of petitioners questioning the validity of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 before the Supreme Court. His clients are from media, Congress and framers of the 1987 Constitution.

Social Entrepreneurship in Asia president Marie Lisa Dacanay, who organized protests against the Education Act of 1982 when she was in the UP Student Council, said the AFP should be held accountable for “libelous (actions) and for potentially endangering people who are leading peaceful lives.”

Old Marcos tactics

Business journalist Roel Landingin, former correspondent of The Financial Times and editor of Forbes Philippines, said the list was AFP’s way to “justify the revocation of the UP-DND Accord.”

He scored the military for laziness saying they “probably went through the archives containing names of student leaders in the ‘80s.”

Black Friday protest on Nov. 25, 2016. UP students protest Marcos burial in Libingan ng mga Bayani. Photo by Aaron Favila/AP/Philstar.com

He added that info like this is what the military bases its operations on, and to be on the list is dangerous. “If there was no pandemic and my contemporaries at UP had a reunion, that could be misconstrued as an NPA assembly, and would be subject to military operation. That’s the serious implication of the list. Given the quality of information they have, all the more they need to consult with concerned authorities—academic or in barangays—who know the situation better.”

Landingin highlighted the broader issue of military operations in communities—not just in academe. “Gusto nilang pasukin ang UP to operate more freely, to establish precedent. If they’re going to succeed in UP, where they can enter and arrest anyone on campus, how much more in, say, rural communities?”

“By going back to their old Marcos tactics, the military is erasing their credibility and whatever positive image they may have with people now,” Mercado said.

Former DENR Usec. Elmer Mercado: By going back to their old Marcos tactics, the military is erasing their credibility and whatever positive image they may have with the people now.

Nemenzo pointed out that “for 31 years the UP-DND Accord served both institutions well. It has promoted goodwill and cooperation. I think we should have the same kind of agreement between the military and all state universities.”

Lawyer Jay Batongbacal said if there was enough support from congress, such an accord covering all universities is possible to promote academic freedom and the safety of all students and faculty members. “Just from the standpoint of the university being liable for what happens to students on campus, it’s very important.”

Human rights lawyer Ted Te agreed.“If it can be legislated, an accord would be more stable and sustainable. I know of at least one bill in the House that has been filed. Ang init na nga ng ulo ng military sa UP. If Congress comes in, that might be a more effective ground—not just to legislate the protection but to legislate it quickly.”

He said there are many UP alumni in Congress that could support this. (But there are also many UP alumni who just pass what President Duterte wants to be passed.)

Cyber libel

According to Aquino, some of those on “the malicious list” are considering filing a cyber libel case against the AFP to hold it accountable.

Some of them are already consulting lawyers, while Padilla said they have a forensic team in place to track how the AFP list was shared on other military and government social media platforms.

He said there was “contempt” on the part of the military for including some lawyers who are involved in the ongoing litigation before the Supreme Court on the Anti-Terror Act.

‘Get your facts straight’

Magtoto, citing the inclusion of artist Behn Cervantes who died of natural causes in 2013, said, “Get your facts straight! These are people who contributed much to society, culture and the arts.”

On Jan. 26, the family of the late Rafael Japa Jr. reacted to the AFP list, saying Japa had been dead since April 1992 “due to a massive heart attack, which happened while he was at home in the city with his family.

Rally for human rights on Sept. 21, 2017. Photo from UP-MPRO 

“He was a respected and well-loved sportswriter and columnist for several major daily newspapers…It was impossible for him to move to the mountains and engage in armed conflict with the government.

“He was an activist while he was in UP, protesting against the administration of then President Marcos, but that did not prove him to be a member of the NPA.

“It is also illegal to charge the dead with being involved in terrorism, again because he cannot defend himself anymore. It is immoral to bear false witness against others. They have the machinery to make all the investigations that they want—why did they not perform their job? Raffy Japa has been dead for almost 29 years without any charges filed against him.”

UP alumni, UP Professors Emeriti react

The UP Alumni Association (UPAA) issued a statement on the unilateral termination of the UP-DND Accord on Jan. 26, saying it violates “established norms in a society that respects the sanctity of contracts. DND ignored and disregarded basic courtesies—there was no notification or consultation before taking action on a mutually agreed accord.”

“Freedom to think and speak as we please—that’s the essence of UP,” journalist Malou Mangahas says. Photo by Cleve Mallari

UP Professors Emeriti also denounced the termination saying there was no “compelling reason” for it. “UP has consistently striven for peace, justice, and development in our society… (We) need to keep UP as a safe place for intellectual inquiry, witgout fear of external or internal threats from whatever source.”

The signatories include, among many others, Randy David, Butch Dalisay, Gemino Abad, Virgilio Almario, Solita Monsod, Serena Diokno and Francisco Nemenzo.

The UP experience

Every UP student from day one realizes that what makes the university special is that it encourages critical thinking, whether it’s on university policies or the government. It also makes you feel that it is your duty to serve the country in one way or another.

In UP Diliman, this freedom, this fearlessness to think is enhanced by the physical freedom on a sprawling, beautiful campus that has produced both a dictator, and countless leaders in the fight for democracy and justice during martial law and after.

“If not now, when?” The eternal question every UP student faces. Collegian from the Marcos years.  Photo from Taga UP Diliman Ka Kung... FB page

Aquino recalled that as a student activist, he protested against a range of issues, “mula sa state ng toilets sa UP hanggang sa state ng sambayanang Pilipino.”

Along with his contemporaries on the list, Padilla protested against the Education Act of 1982 (which basically privatized the Philippine education system, and gave rise to diploma mills and expensive universities).

“Social awareness and being of service to the people are ingrained in UP students,” Dacanay said. “To this day, I carry these learnings.”

“Freedom to think and speak as we please—that’s the essence of UP,” journalist Malou Mangahas said.