Freedom is not academic
Academic freedom is much debated today. It is on record that the University of the Philippines (UP) and the Department of National Defense (DND) entered into a pact in 1989 to govern the conduct of military and police operations in school campuses. It was to defend dissent and to allow protest actions rooted in the youth’s cry against societal injustices.
Before the pandemic, demonstrations had become regular fare. The constitutional right of assembly and to petition government for redress of grievances (of which there are many) is respected and is no longer dealt with as in the previous decades—with blood and violence. It is therefore not accurate to say that academic freedom is under attack. The terrain of the battlefield has simply changed.
When a police officer is armed with a particular warrant, he can by law enter the place directed by the court or restrain the named individual wherever found. The principle applies all over the country and there is no exception to this criminal procedure.Military intelligence, on the other hand, will operate whether or not an agreement exists, for that is the nature of spy work. It even snoops on its own commander in chief.
In these instances, academic freedom is not applicable. Academic freedom properly refers to the environment not only in the classroom but in the entire campus that enables teachers, students, and researchers to discuss and debate any topic in any manner at will without any scintilla of reservation or fear. From a constitutional law standpoint, it is the highest species of free speech. Why go to school to be educated if there is censorship on the expression of ideas by authorities, or self-censorship of the mind out of caution or concern?
To illustrate: In writing this column, I have to type “f__k you” if I want to swear. But UP can run a course on the “History of the Use of the Swear Word P___ I___” without blanks. Similarly, a professor can present the arguments for and against the use of force to justify a revolution to overthrow a government without repercussions. A student can freely discuss the alleged corrupt activities of a government official without fear of being hounded for it. All these are perfectly protected by academic freedom, and it will serve the state well, especially its law enforcers, to strictly observe it.
However, what is the situation today? The Philippines has the world’s longest running insurgency, run by the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People’s Army, and the National Democratic Front, otherwise known as the CPP–NPA-NDF axis. The CPP acts as the brain, the NPA the sword, and the NDF the shield. Its goal, as declared in its charter, is the violent overthrow of the government, to replace it with a new, supposedly democratic state led by the working class.
The NPA’s acts of violence are documented. When they fight against the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the rules of combat apply. When they attack civilian instrumentalities like local government units, raid police stations, or extort from telco companies, they violate criminal laws.
The NDF as the pseudo-legal arm perpetually negotiates with government without any result. CPP members, as the masterminds of the insurgency, are fair game for military and police agencies because the use of force is an avowed means to attain their objectives.
This has been the orthodox understanding in the last 52 years. What has changed? Perhaps it is the realization by the defense department that there should be a new approach in light of its findings that students are being recruited on campus to join the NPA. And this is where the issue of academic freedom comes into play.
Any bona fide CPP-NPA-NDF member will, of course, not put up a recruiting booth in UP or elsewhere. Such activities to mobilize the youth, to convince and to entice fresh minds into the movement, necessarily must be done clandestinely, in secret ways. One discreet method is to engage and exploit the spirit and mantle of academic freedom. A recruiter will be dishonest and will not disclose his affiliation with a movement that espouses violence as a means toward its avowed ends. He will hide details in order to deceive. This is a very fine line, but it is observable.
The work of the state is therefore clear and straightforward: To deploy intelligence to identify and uncover such members wherever they may be, in or out of campus. Warrants will need to be secured for the requisite due process. The courts will work to determine the truth of the allegations.
To uphold fundamental rights like academic freedom, they need to be properly understood. Freedom also includes the work of freeing our society from the yoke of never-ending violence.
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Geronimo L. Sy is a former assistant secretary of the Department of Justice. He set up the department’s Office of Cybercrime and Office for Competition.
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