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Emancipating the mind

Camp Aguinaldo—The unilateral abrogation of the 31-year-old University of the Philippines-Department of National Defense Accord of 1989 in January that prevented unauthorized military and police presence inside UP campuses brought forth questions about academic freedom and threats to it. Pundits argue that the abrogation was a symbolic step toward silencing the critical community and that it removes state commitment to protect the university from state repression.

What precipitated the abrogation was the string of arrests and involvement of some UP students with the New People’s Army—the armed front of the Communist Party of the Philippines. UP was perceived to have become a hotbed of recruitment of anti-government forces, and that it harbored elements that led their students astray, hence the abrogation of the accord.

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But even before the abrogation, the state university was under fire from supporters of the current government, arguing that since the instructors’ salary and the education of the students are paid for by the state, they should teach their students not to criticize or go against the government.

It is unfortunate that such a viewpoint persists—that state universities and colleges should educate their students to stop criticizing the government because they are funded by it. It is unfortunate, because education should never be partisan to begin with. The state provides funds for state universities and colleges not for political ends, but as a form of investment for these academic institutions to produce educated, critical, socially-aware, and politically-active citizens that will soon lead the country.

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Throughout history, universities have served as the bedrock of young minds wanting to change the status quo and transform society for the better. Activism has sprung in universities where radical and profound ideas are born. In the hallowed halls of the classrooms, students and teachers freely express, discuss, and criticize viewpoints, analyze theories, and approach social and political phenomena without fear of reprisal.

Through activism, our society has been improved. The civil rights movement, labor movement, and women’s movement were all products of activism, along with pretty much everything that we enjoy but take for granted in the contemporary world.

While instructors have their political leanings—leftist, centrist, or rightist—this adds flavor and nuance to the discussion as students are free to weigh in on how they should understand and arrive at the truth through their own analysis. Students are not passive receptacles that teachers fill in with ideas. Instead, they process inputs and relate the same with their experiences to develop their own principles and belief systems.

The question of academic freedom is close to my heart, and this piece is hinged on it. As a member of the Corps of the Professors of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, I can freely express my take on the matter, given the two-fold nature of my identity—as a scholar and as a military officer. The former comes first, as I am commissioned to active service because of my scholarly background. As such, despite being a military officer, I can freely express my views and not get reprimanded for them. The power of academic freedom protects me.

However, while academics are free to encourage discussions about the ills of society, the political economy that heavily favors the rich, and the sociopolitical conditions that keep the majority of our people in the quagmire of poverty, academics do cross the line the moment they egg on their students to bear arms to realize their visions of utopia.

In the end, while we continue to work for the emancipation of the mind, we must always remain within the bounds of law.

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Cpt. Jesse Angelo L. Altez is a member of the Corps of Professors, Armed Forces of the Philippines. A recipient of the Asian Development Bank-Japan Scholarship, he obtained a master’s degree in public policy from the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo. The views expressed here are entirely his own and do not represent the position of any institution. React on Twitter: @AngeloAltez

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TAGS: abrogation, military presence, University of the Philippines-Department of National Defense Accord of 1989, UP, UP-DND accord of 1989
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