Why so anti-UP?
It’s disturbing how so many Filipinos support the Department of National Defense’s abrogation of its accord with the University of the Philippines. On news sites and social media, commenters have been quick to say this was good news. But such a move against the government’s known critics should bother us, or at least prompt us to ponder a few questions.
For instance, why did the DND feel the need to exit the deal? UP has purportedly become “a safe haven for the enemies of the state,” and our defense department has alluded to “clandestine recruitment” in the campus by terrorist organizations. We’ve yet to see any compelling specifics that could have led to this theory, but even if we believe it to be true, the accord did not stand in the way of security.
The agreement was for the police and military to coordinate with UP authorities when intending to conduct an operation in any of its campuses. It even included the provisions that UP officials strengthen its “own security, police, fire-fighting capabilities to leave no vacuum that can be exploited” and “extend the necessary assistance in the enforcement of the law within UP premises.”
There was no need to terminate the accord, because it wasn’t there to hinder our nation’s defense. Its purpose was to protect the university’s civilian community from unnecessarily being targeted for expressing their political opinions. This targeting of civilians has happened numerous times in our history.
Another question: Why now? Despite decades’ worth of speculation about UP, despite the many things that its students have voiced against various Philippine administrations, the agreement stayed standing since 1989. Nobody retracted from it until this week.
It shouldn’t escape us that this retraction by the DND comes at a time when Filipino citizens are being blatantly red-tagged without proof. UP students are particularly vulnerable to this because of their progressive—and necessary—critiques of the government.
The defense department says it does not intend to suppress activist groups and academic freedom. But terminating an agreement that protected civilians, coupled with the capricious red-tagging of late, sends the message that sociopolitical expressions are now constrained—if not through police or military outposts, then through fear. It was just a few months ago when students were arrested right inside the UP Cebu campus after they held a rally against the controversial anti-terrorism bill.
At this point, it’s worth highlighting why criticism of the government is a crucial element of our democracy. We don’t even need to go back to the martial law era to find examples.
When there’s abuse, incompetence, or corruption among our government officials—be it in the form of foreign encroachment into our territory or P15 billion lost public funds—citizens have to pressure those officials to be answerable. When there’s injustice that oppresses certain sectors of our society—such as farmers struggling under a new agricultural law, or nurses fraught by unreasonable employment practices—citizens have to push for desired changes.
Many of us are comfortable staying silent about issues like these. Some are afraid to speak up (wonder why?). And there are those who scoff at the idea of sociopolitical advocacies, dismissing petitions and protests and editorials as mere nuisance. But all of us benefit from the active advocacy of the few. We are fortunate that we still have voices like theirs insisting that our government stay accountable, transparent, and fit to serve us, the people.
Calling out the government this way is not equivalent to insurgence. Activism is not terrorism. Just because an individual or group of individuals is outspoken in pointing out flaws in governance does not automatically mean they intend to join an armed revolt. Yet many of us celebrate any blanket restriction of these advocates, as if they themselves are the enemy, as if we’ve lost sight of the difference between sociopolitical engagement and terrorism.
We have to wonder if Pinoys’ knee-jerk reaction against UP is a product of the aggressive anti-activism rhetoric that’s being hammered into the Filipino consciousness. We have to wonder if, by supporting actions like the DND’s abrogation, we are really agreeing to suppress valid and necessary criticism of the government.
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