The Department of National Defense wants to end a decades-long deal that bars the police and military from setting foot inside the campus of the University of the Philippines (UP).
In a letter addressed to UP President Danilo Concepcion on Jan. 15, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana cited allegations that some UP students were members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).
“This Department is aware that there is indeed an ongoing clandestine recruitment inside U.P. campuses nationwide for membership in the CPP/NPA and that the ‘Agreement’ is being used by the CPPNPA recruiters and supporters as a shield or propaganda so that government law enforcers are barred from conducting operations against the CPP/NPA,” read a letter posted by the UP campus paper Philippine Collegian.
“By reason of national security and safety of UP students, this Department intends to remedy this situation by terminating or aborgating the existing ‘Agreement’ in order for us to perform our legal mandate of protecting our youth against CPP/NPA recruitment activities.”
The UP-DND accord was created in 1989, with then Defense Secretary Fidel V. Ramos and UP President Jose Abueva, preventing the PNP and AFP from entering any campus in the UP System.
"We want them to see their Armed Forces and Police as protectors worthy of trust, not fear," Lorenzana added.
On Jan. 19, UP President Danilo Concepcion responded to Lorenzana’s letter, saying the agreement was made “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. We want to maintain UP as a safe haven for all beliefs and forms of democratic expression. In that, all the signatories to the agreement believed and bound themselves to uphold.”
Concepcion added, “At the same time, especially given our experience of martial law, we must reject any form or semblance of militarization on our campuses, which will have a chilling effect deleterious to academic freedom. This abrogation endangers the goodwill necessary for both of us to achieve our mission as responsible members of the same national family.
“Our police and military authorities should have no fear of academic freedom. 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.”
He cited UP’s international ranking among universities in Southeast Asia—65th of 489 universities—and national leadership in all fields.
“That performance, Mr. Secretary, is the result of its exercise of academic freedom—the freedom to think, to probe, to question, to find and propose better solutions. May I urge you, therefore, 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.”
President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly accused the university of harboring communists and threatened to defund UP in his speeches, seemingly forgetting RA 9500 or the University of the Philippines Charter of 2008 that outlines the 'policy of the state to strengthen UP as a national university.'
The military has also repeatedly red-tagged individuals and entire campuses including a non-existing university under AFP Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade.
In November last year, UP released a statement responding to persisting red-tagging allegations and communist recruitment.
“The University of the Philippines values academic freedom—the freedom to think, to speak, to study, to teach, and even the freedom to disagree,” read a statement from UP’s Office of the Vice President for Public Affairs
“UP encourages critical thinking which, at times, may manifest as an attitude of dissidence and anti-authoritarianism. UP cannot be said to be anti-government because its mandate is clear: UP is the national university. Its community of scholars is dedicated to the nation’s quest for development.”