Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Wednesday said he was willing to hold a dialogue with officials of the University of the Philippines over his department’s sudden scrapping of an agreement that upholds UP’s right to restrict military operations in its campuses.
Lorenzana, however, insisted that the UP administrators must first explain why communist rebels continue to openly recruit students at the university.
The Defense chief terminated the 32-year-old University of the Philippines-Department of National Defense (DND) Accord, saying UP had become a hotbed of communism.
The scrapping of the agreement sparked protests from the UP community and alumni, who claim the university is now vulnerable to military raids and arrests.
Lawmakers passed a resolution calling on Lorenzana to reconsider his decision and talk things over with UP officials. Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. offered to mediate talks between Lorenzana and UP President Danilo Concepcion.
Lorenzana said he was open to a dialogue, but Concepcion must tell him why several UP students were among the New People’s Army (NPA) fighters who were killed in recent clashes with the military.
“These are all students of UP from all UP campuses that died during encounters with the Armed Forces. Explain to me why this happened to them,” he said.
Lorenzana’s office released to the media a list of 17 UP students who joined the NPA and were killed in encounters.
The Defense chief said the UP community can still hold assemblies, as long as these are not for planning to overthrow the government.
“We will allow you to do legitimate dissent, assembly [or] whatever. You can tweet, we won’t care, as long as it is within the bounds of the law,” he said.
“It is when you start plotting against the government, that’s no longer good. We are the protector of the people…we have a sworn oath that we are going to support and defend the Constitution. Any people who will violate that, is our enemy,” Lorenzana said.
One of the signatories of the agreement, former UP president Jose Abueva, said he was appalled by Lorenzana’s unilateral decision to junk the agreement.
Abueva said he and former president Fidel Ramos, the Defense secretary during the agreement’s signing in 1989, “had great respect for each other and for the institutions we represented” and that they had an understanding about the “inalienable rights” to freedom, democracy, justice and peace “that lasted beyond our respective presidencies.”
Lorenzana conceded that no military operations had been hampered because of the accord.
Lawmakers opposed to the termination of the accord have filed measures to uphold UP’s autonomy and academic freedom.
One of them is Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, a UP alumnus.
In his House Resolution (HR) 1490, Lagman said Lorenzana’s termination of the agreement “without prior consultation with and conformity of UP officials is illegal and void ab initio because the accord was entered into bilaterally and mutually and could not be extinguished by one party alone.”
Lagman said the termination “opens the floodgates for military and police incursions into UP campuses nationwide under the guise of protecting national security and maintaining peace and order.”
Another UP alumnus, Kabataan party-list Rep. Sarah Elago, led her colleagues in the Makabayan bloc in filing HR 1491, “expressing the sense of the House to uphold the UP-DND Accord and academic freedom of all educational institutions.”
In the resolution, Elago noted that the pact was a response “to widespread human rights violations during and after martial rule and borne out of democratic rights movements.”
The violations included the dispersal and arrests of students in a protest against the Anti-Terrorism Act in UP Cebu last June and the “red-tagging” and death threats received by UP Manila students who initiated donation drives for Covid-19 frontliners last March.
Sen. Emmanuel Joel Villanueva on Wednesday filed a bill seeking to integrate the UP-DND pact into the university’s charter.
The chairman of the Senate Committee on Higher, and Technical and Vocational Education, was joined by Senators Mary Grace Poe, Maria Lourdes Nancy Binay, and Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara as authors of the bill.
“The UP-DND accord is not a “do-not-enter” sign that bars law enforcement from entering the campus. It is not a wall which obstructs justice or deters the solution or prevention of crime. It is unfortunate that its abrogation is being invoked for the wrong reasons.
Implying that it has enabled thinking that is critical to the government is a gross misreading of UP’s role as vanguard of independent thought,” Villanueva said in the bill’s exploratory note.
“Our country is facing a number of very important issues where the resources of the military and the police can be more efficiently utilized. We have the West Philippine Sea dispute, the increasing criminality due to POGOs (Philippine offshore gaming operators), and extrajudicial killings, among many others. Our law enforcement agencies and the military establishment must set its priorities straight and focus on what really matters,” said Villanueva, a member of the UP Board of Regents.
The measure amends Republic Act 9500, the UP charter, to include a provision that would prevent the military, police and other law enforcement agencies from entering the premises of UP campuses nationwide “except in cases of hot pursuit and similar occasions of emergency,” or with express permission from university officials specified under the bill.
Malacañang spokesman Harry Roque Jr. on Wednesday said President Rodrigo Duterte was not consulted by Lorenzana before he scrapped the accord.
“As far as I know, he (Lorenzana) did not [consult the President]. It was a decision of the DND as a party of that contract between UP and DND,” Roque said in an interview with CNN Philippines.
He reiterated that the President supported Lorenzana’s move.
Roque also disagreed with former Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te that the pact’s abrogation violated the principle of mutuality of contracts and that termination could be left solely to one side.
He said the UP-DND accord was an act of goodwill on the part of the government.
Roque agreed with Concepcion that the UP and the DND should talk about the termination of the agreement.
Roque, a UP alumnus and a former UP professor, offered to facilitate the talks.
“All I’m saying is — let’s talk about this. I’ll support the steps of the UP president, and let’s see why the 30-year-old accord should not be continued when it has worked, apparently, for the past 30 years,” he said.
A fellow UP graduate of Roque, Chief Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said the university will remain as the “citadel of freedom.”
“With or without the MoA (memorandum of agreement), governments will come and go, UP remains the citadel of freedom,” Panelo said in a statement.
But he added that ending the pact does not overstep the boundaries of the university’s academic freedom as well as of the freedom of expression and speech.
“With or without the MoA, UP has the sole authority of what courses to teach, the manner by which the same is taught. It decides who the faculty members will be,” Panelo said.
With DIVINA NOVA JOY DELA CRUZ, CATHERINE S. VALENTE and JAVIER JOE ISMAEL