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Respect the academic freedom of UP

The unilateral termination by Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana of the agreement between the Department of National Defense and the University of the Philippines concerning the conduct of military and police operations on UP campuses in Diliman, Manila, Los Baños, and Visayas is arbitrary and leaves the university’s academic freedom without protection.

The enjoyment of academic freedom by institutions of higher learning is guaranteed by the Constitution. It is essential to the existence of a university as a sanctuary of learning, by giving it the right to determine what to teach, how it shall be taught, who may teach, and who may be admitted to study. As Vicente G. Sinco, eighth president of UP, has written: “There is but one cause which can write finis to the existence of the University and that is when it can no longer advance the frontiers of knowledge;… when students and professors… grovel in abject obedience to authority; when it submits its judgment to outside directives.”

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UP has been the seedling bed of national leadership. Its scientists and medical experts have been at the forefront of the campaign against the COVID-19 pandemic. By its excellence, it has given the country pride of place among this region’s great institutions of learning. Without the enjoyment of academic freedom, it is doubtful if UP could have made these achievements.

So essential is academic freedom that when the country was under martial law, the DND agreed to pull out any military forces it had from UP’s campuses, and only uniformed personnel would be allowed if it became necessary to conduct military or police operations. On the other hand, students agreed to give the military notice of any planned demonstration or rally.

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Through the years, coordination between the military and UP defined the relation of the parties. When an employee at the Philippine Collegian, the student publication of the university, was arrested without warrant by the military, another agreement was made on June 30, 1989 by Defense Secretary Fidel V. Ramos and UP president Jose V. Abueva, requiring prior notification to UP before military or police operations on its campuses.

For 30 years, this agreement served well the needs of the parties—until Jan. 15, when Secretary Lorenzana unilaterally terminated the agreement on the grounds that it had been a “hindrance” to the military’s efforts to prevent student recruitment by the CPP/NPA. He claimed that former UP students were found slain or captured in battle against the NPA. UP president Danilo Concepcion protested, claiming that the unilateral termination of the agreement was unwarranted, and requested Lorenzana to reconsider his action, but the latter refused.

No effort was made by the DND to discuss the problem of recruitment of students by the CPP/NPA. Lorenzana’s only basis for ending the agreement was a vague claim that the agreement was a “hindrance” to the military’s efforts to prevent CPP/NPA recruitment of students.

It will surprise no one if students from other schools, where the military could enter even without prior notification, can be found among members of the CPP/NPA. On the other hand, granting the military or the police unhampered access to UP could lead to abuses and violations of constitutional rights as discussions of current social issues could easily be thought to be subversive. Soldiers in civilian clothes could infiltrate the ranks of students holding legitimate rallies and demonstrations. Instead of an atmosphere of freedom, an atmosphere of fear would be instituted, Secretary Lorenzana’s assurances notwithstanding.

Students and professors must feel safe in their beliefs and convictions. Secretary Lorenzana’s repudiation of the DND-UP agreement at this time, when the Anti-Terrorism Act is being implemented and red-tagging of professors and students is being done, can only reinforce suspicions that his action is part of the move to suppress dissent in this country.

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Vicente V. Mendoza is a retired associate justice of the Supreme Court.

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