House member wants SUCs as ‘freedom spaces’

An opposition member in the House of Representatives on Thursday filed House Bill 8443 or the Academic Freedom Act of 2021, institutionalizing state universities and colleges as freedom spaces.

Deputy minority leader and Quezon City Rep. Jose Christopher Belmonte said the bill aims to declare schools and SUCs as areas where academic freedom is guaranteed.

“The bill is similar to the UP-DND Accord, but will now have the force of law once passed, covering all state universities and colleges in the country,” he said.

The University of the Philippines-Department of Defense Accord, signed in June 1989, was unilaterally scrapped by DND Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Jan. 15.

It outlines the operations of the police and the armed forces in state universities and colleges, including prohibition of entry unless coordinated with school officials, non-intervention in public demonstrations and protests, and notifying schools when students are arrested.

HB 8443 maintains that state forces can enter school premises in specific situations such as in hot pursuit, or emergency situations, provided that they coordinate with the school administration. It also makes way for the creation of a joint congressional oversight committee to ensure proper implementation.

“History tells us, repression breeds resistance. With the unilateral termination, it will cause problems rather than solving it,” Belmonte said.

Lorenzana, for his part, said he would oppose measures to institutionalize the UP-DND Agreement.

“How can you institutionalize an agreement? Will this be permanent? Then that will no longer be an agreement but a law. I oppose it and I am ready to go up to the Supreme Court to defend my action,” he said.

Lorenzana made the statement after Senator Joel Villanueva filed Senate Bill 2002 institutionalizing the essence of the agreement between the UP and state forces.

The bill seeks to amend Republic Act 9500 or the UP Charter Act of 2008 to require prior notification on the entry of police and military units in all UP campuses.

Lorenzana claimed the agreement was used by the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army to turn the state university into a breeding ground of “intransigent individuals and groups whose extremist beliefs have inveigled students to join their ranks to fight against the government.”

Topics: House of Representatives , Supreme Court , Joel Villanueva , Communist Party of the Philippines , New People’s Army
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