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Trust-building: UP and the military

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana just stirred the hornet’s nest with his letter to UP president Danilo Concepcion announcing that he was abrogating the UP-DND accord of 1989. In this accord, the military committed to give prior notice of their operations within the UP campus. Lorenzana complained that UP has become a recruiting ground for the New People’s Army, and the accord was a “hindrance in providing effective security, safety, and welfare of the students, faculty, and employees of UP.”

The UP community—students, faculty, researchers, and administrators, including many influential alumni in Congress, the bureaucracy, and the business sector—went ballistic. The accord was a critical linchpin to the contentious relations between the academe and the military since the 1970 First Quarter Storm and the Diliman Commune events prior to the declaration of martial law in 1972.

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It was not clear exactly what the abrogation meant in operational terms, but the military subsequently sent a “freedom of navigation” convoy through the campus on the pretext of attending to AFP garden plots in the UP arboretum. It was supposed to show that the military was not the enemy of UP.

However, UP denizens had something else in mind. In June 2020, state forces violently dispersed an anti-terrorism bill protest in UP Cebu, constituting a violation of the accord. Overall, the impending military action was seen by the UP community as intended to limit freedom of expression and academic freedom and compromise the human security of members of the UP community.

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There is obviously a longstanding problem of trust between the military and the UP community. Without first seeking a meeting with UP authorities, Lorenzana’s move was rather undiplomatic, especially coming from a former defense attaché. Now that the contentious debate has spilled over into the media, another linchpin arrangement may become nearly impossible. Only a confidence-building mechanism will allow the two parties to move forward.

Toward this end, the military should be more forthcoming. It should begin by detailing exactly what and how its intended operations would be conducted in the UP campus. Then, its explanations should make sense. Despite the Chinese encroachments on sea and land, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon insists the CPP-NPA, all of 5,000 fighters in 80 fronts, is the primary security threat to the nation. The military should provide the basis for claiming that the CPP-NPA has recruited 8,635 minors and students to date. It had claimed with all seriousness that the CPP-NPA was recruiting students from 18 schools for a “Red October” plot to oust President Duterte in 2018. It was a dud.

UP understandably refuses to take responsibility for the occasional student who gets recruited into the CPP-NPA. The military takes this as proof that the university is either complicit or tolerant. The military is unconvinced that the business of universities is education, and that the exposure of students to a wide spectrum of information, ideas, and insights about the nature and problems of society is part of that education process. It is of no moment to them that this process has precisely produced critical thinkers with instrumental skills in governance and policymaking, as well as in the professions, technical trades, and entrepreneurship in the private sector.

This is not to say that the communists and the NPA are not recruiting from among students. Students are the most likely targets for recruitment because of their situation—they have stipends, time, and intellectual curiosity, and are open to exciting, radical, delightful ideas with high explanatory power and appeal, like Marxism and other philosophies.

The tussle between UP and the military is a situation that is rife for alternative dispute resolution and professional mediators that can provide some venue for finding a solution. The end result should be a set of systems and procedures that both sides would be able and willing to live with. Since Lorenzana intends to widen the campaign to other universities, the search for a mediated solution should already include these universities.

The military must show the ability and sophistication to engage universities in broader areas of mutual security interest, like finding strategic initiatives against Chinese encroachment in the West Philippine Sea, or foreign cyberspying and the manipulation of critical operations like elections.

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Erratum: William Jennings Bryan was 40, not 33 as mentioned in the column last week, when he ran for the US presidency in 1900.

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TAGS: CPP-NPA-NDF, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Department of National Defense, University of the Philippines, UP-DND accord
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