On Sept. 30, out of the blue, Cavite Rep. Jesus Crispin Remulla filed a motion for the House of Representatives to reconsider a bill institutionalizing the abrogated 1989 accord between the University of the Philippines (UP) and the Department of National Defense (DND). The bill had passed third and final reading, meaning it was already approved by the House.
Remulla’s belated motion was irregular enough, but then it was immediately carried by the chamber. Just days earlier, the House had unanimously approved House Bill No. 10171 or the UP security bill, which sought to incorporate the UP-DND agreement into the premier state university’s charter, thus ensuring that police and military forces will not be able to enter UP campuses without prior notice.
“It’s done. It’s over,” crowed Remulla afterwards. “The plenary has already reconsidered it… This goes back to the rules committee for our disposition. We will decide if this will be revived or if we will allow its passage.”
Remulla, also the senior deputy majority leader of the powerful committee on rules, claimed the passage of the UP security bill had been rushed as it was approved at the same time as hearings on the 2022 national budget were being held, and thus did not go through much scrutiny and deliberations.
“There are times that some things happen that shouldn’t happen on the floor, and this is such a situation,” he said in Filipino. The reconsideration of the measure was therefore a “corrective action.” But Remulla vowed not to stop at merely reviewing the measure: “House Bill 10171 is not going to be passed into law,” he said.
Is that at all possible—a bill already unanimously approved on third and final reading after presumably lengthy debate and consideration by lawmakers still ending up scrapped altogether at the overdue behest of a member?
The abrupt about-face by the House was quickly challenged by Quezon City Rep. Jose Christopher Belmonte and the six lawmakers from the Makabayan bloc, whom Remulla had accused of having “smuggled” the bill through the chamber amid the “very busy” budget-hearing season that “preoccupied” lawmakers.
In a joint Oct. 4 letter, the UP security bill authors protested to Speaker Lord Allan Velasco that Remulla’s motion was “invalid” as it was made days after the Sept. 22 deadline for filing any further motions. Thus, they insisted, the reconsideration of the UP security bill should “be declared null and void.”
The Defend UP Network, a coalition of UP teachers, students, and staffers, likewise branded the House’s approval of Remulla’s motion a “big slap to UP’s victory [especially] now that the bill is already submitted to the Senate for their action.” Added the group: “Every day that passes that this bill is not made into law, the university faces even more danger from attacks and threats from police and military.”
To recall, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana unilaterally ended on Jan. 15 this year the standing three-decade-old agreement that had kept UP’s campuses nationwide a safe space for activist debate and activity by students and faculty. The separation between UP and state forces was deemed vital to preserving the academic freedom indispensable to the state university as an institution of learning and critical thought. But the Duterte administration, caught up in a Red-tagging spree, claimed the accord had not only become “obsolete,” but also, per Lorenzana, that it had been used by communist rebels to turn the country’s top university into the breeding ground of “intransigent individuals and groups whose extremist beliefs have inveigled students to join their ranks to fight against the government.”
The bill authored by Deputy Speaker and Quezon City Rep. Eddie Villanueva sought to preserve UP’s democratic space by prohibiting subjecting any student, faculty member, or employee to custodial investigation without prior notice to the university president or chancellor of the constituent university, or dean of the regional unit concerned.
“In these dark times of the pandemic, what the country needs is an abundance of the youth’s ideas for national recovery,” explained Villanueva. “Young people, especially mga iskolar ng bayan, must be encouraged, not discouraged, to be more vocal, more visible, and more vigorously participative in the national discourse. An ailing nation needs more of the youth’s ideas and idealism, not less.”
Who’s afraid of outspoken students and teachers? Lawmakers like Remulla and company, apparently, who, as trusty foot soldiers of the Duterte administration in the House of Representatives, have no qualms engaging in underhanded moves that thrash the rules of their own chamber to execute Malacañang’s scorched-earth policy against what it perceives as its enemies—in this case, the historically defiant, staunchly independent-minded UP and its constituents.