The Department of Defense unilaterally ending its 1989 agreement with the University of the Philippines, which prevents the military and police from entering UP campuses without authorization from the university administration, has many people thinking of the “darkest period in Philippine history” and asking: Is it martial law all over again?
Soon after President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law on Sept. 21, 1972, the military arrested thousands of dissenters including students, journalists, labor leaders and businessmen.
Marcos cited the threat of communism for putting the entire country under one-man rule, but according to the Martial Law Museum, “independent reports suggest there were only about 1,000 NPA guerrillas at the time.”
By 1985 or after 13 years of Marcos dictatorship and excess, the number had risen to 35,000. Student protesters were among those jailed or disappeared.
In 1981, after the League of Filipino Students (LFS) successfully led a nationwide boycott, the government signed the Soto-Enrile accord to protect students from harassment and illegal detention. (The agreement was named after LFS chair Sonia Soto, while then Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile is reportedly denying he was involved in the accord.)
In 1989, under President Cory Aquino, a new accord was signed between UP and the Department of Defense (DND) represented by then UP President Jose Abueva and Defense Secretary Fidel V. Ramos.
This agreement was specific to the campuses across the country in the UP System. Now, the DND is unilaterally dissolving it.
According to activist and musician Renato Reyes Jr., the 1989 agreement was precipitated by the arrest of Philippine Collegian staffer Donato Continente on June 16, 1989 by the military and police at Vinzons Hall.
“He was forced inside a car and was only surfaced later. This triggered discussions on the conduct of military operations on campus. Donat was accused of involvement in the killing of a top US military official in the Philippines, Col. James Rowe of the JUSMAG.
“The UP-DND Accord, signed June 30, 1989, laid down guidelines in the conduct of police and military operations so that what happened to Donat in UP would not be repeated. Donat was interrogated and tortured and forced to admit to a crime he did not commit. He was later released after serving a shortened sentence.”
The 1989 accord bars military and police from entering the campus and conducting operations without authorization from the UP administration except in cases of hot pursuit and similar cases of emergency.
It also prohibits the military and police from interfering with peaceful protests by UP students and constituents within UP premises. It states that the UP administration will be responsible for the behavior of students, faculty and employees in such activities.
The UP administration should also be notified before a search or arrest warrant for a student, faculty or employee is served, and that members of the UP Police will assist and accompany the party serving the warrant.
In a letter dated Jan. 15, 2021, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana notified UP President Danilo Concepcion that the government was dissolving the 1989 accord.
“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.
“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.”
Concepcion responded today, saying that while UP has indeed bred rebels and nonconformists, “it has also 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 said that the university sought and secured the agreement in 1989 “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.”
The Duterte government insists that the threat of communism is back; the military said in 2018 that the CPP/NPA had fewer than “5,000 armed fighters.” According to the DND, almost half of its budget (P186 billion in 2020) is spent “fighting the communists.”
The government has also been red-tagging protesters and critics of the administration without provable ties to the communists.
Banner photo from the Facebook page of UP Office of the Student Regent