Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Wednesday said he was willing to hold a dialogue with University of the Philippines (UP) officials and some senators over his office’s unilateral termination of a 30-year agreement that bars the military and police from entering the state university without notifying school officials.
However, Lorenzana said they should first explain why UP students were being killed in military encounters with the New People’s Army (NPA) rebels.
“Explain to me how this happened and how they failed to protect these young kids from joining these organizations and they get killed,” Lorenzana said.
“If they can explain that, we will talk; if not, then forget it," he added in an online press briefing.
Lorenzana added even with the abrogation of the agreement, students and activist groups against the government can hold their rallies inside without fear of interference from security forces.
This developed as four senators, three of them UP alumni, filed a bill Wednesday to institutionalize the UP pact with the Department of National Defense (DND), days after the government pulled out of the pact.
Senators Joel Villanueva, Sonny Angara, Nancy Binay and Grace Poe filed Senate Bill No. 2002, which seeks to amend the UP Charter to include guidelines on military and police operations inside the university, similar to the ones under the 1989 accord signed by then UP president Jose Abueva and then Defense Secretary Fidel V. Ramos.
The agreement, which the DND abrogated unilaterally on Jan. 15, explicitly prohibits military elements from entering and conducting operations within any UP campus unless they notify the school administration.
Under the deal, only uniformed personnel with proper identification will be allowed entry.
"[UP] has been one of our country's bulwarks of free expression and activism. However, this status has long been threatened by the state efforts to minimize the unique role and participation of the University in social change," the senators said in the bill's explanatory 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," they added, citing the West Philippine Sea dispute and rising criminality due to Philippine offshore gaming operators.
Lorenzana, in a letter to UP President Danilo Concepcion dated Jan. 15, unilaterally terminated the accord, saying it benefitted communist rebels who were recruiting students on campus.
Critics of Lorenzana’s move said it would stifle academic freedom and political dissent.
Earlier, Senator Francis Pangilinan and several other senators filed a resolution “expressing the Senate’s sense to oppose the scrapping of the accord.”
On the other hand, two senators who used to be police chiefs—Senators Panfilo Lacson and Ronald dela Rosa—supported the abrogation of the UP agreement.
Malacañang on Wednesday said that President Rodrigo Duterte was not consulted by the DND before the agency terminated its 1989 accord with UP.
“As far as I know, Secretary Delfin Lorenzana did not,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque told CNN Philippines.
“It was a decision of the DND as a party to that contract between UP and DND,” he added.
But Roque, a UP alumnus, said the President supported Lorenzana’s move.
“Under the doctrine of qualified political agency, unless revoked by the President, acts of his alter egos are valid,” he said.
Roque also disagreed with former Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te that the abrogation of the three-decade accord violates the principle of mutuality of contracts and that termination cannot be left solely to one side.
“Only contracts supported by consideration cannot be unilaterally terminated. Anything else, if it is bilateral, it’s for cause, then it can be terminated,” he said.
Roque said the UP-DND accord was “an act of goodwill” on the part of the government.
“This is an unusual contract, an extraordinary contract. It is an act of beneficence of the state in the sense that it suspends the exercise of jurisdiction in a given territory,” he said.
He said the proper course to resolve the issue is that UP and the DND should talk about the termination of the agreement.
“The UP President is a lawyer himself. It is a contract so it should be discussed by the parties,” he added.
Roque said he believes that even with the termination of the agreement, UP students will not be cowed.
“I don’t think the UP students will ever be cowed even by the presence of policemen and military,” he said.
“As a UP alumnus, as a former UP faculty, I don’t think any UP student will be cowed. They will be undeterred, they will pursue and exercise their rights,” he added.
In the House of Representatives, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman on Wednesday sought a congressional inquiry in aid of legislation on the unilateral abrogation by Lorenzana of the 1989 agreement.
Lagman, in filing House Resolution 1490, urged the House committee on human rights to conduct the investigation.
Reps. Christopher Belmonte of Quezon City, Lorenz Defensor of Iloilo, and Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna co-authored Lagman's resolution.
Lagman underscored that “the unilateral termination of the subject agreement by the DND without prior consultation with and conformity of UP officials is illegal and void from the beginning because the accord was entered into bilaterally and mutually and cannot be extinguished by one party alone.
Lagman added that the one-sided 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.”
Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon, vice chairman of the House committee on national defense, also appealed the DND "to reconsider its decision and instead enter into a dialogue with the UP leadership and community to come to terms to a joint approach to counter the recruitment of the youth by communist rebels.
"The sudden and unilateral termination of the UP-DND agreement may have an opposite outcome of its stated objective to 'reach out to the youth' and 'see their Armed Forces and police as protectors worthy of trust, not fear'," Biazon said.
The irony, he said, is that instead of “protecting and securing the institution and youth against the enemies of the Filipino people,” it will provide a basis for the Armed Forces and police to be seen as the enemy of the institution and the youth.
"Without actually occupying the campuses, the termination will give a sense of academic freedom being under siege," Biazon said.
Lagman said the abrupt termination “red-tags” the entire UP community.
“While Lorenzana claims that UP campuses are hotbeds for recruitment of students for membership to the CPP-NPA, the fact is there are no students now on UP campuses to be purportedly recruited because there are no face-to-face classes and only online classes are ongoing,” Lagman said.
Lagman emphasized that “UP has produced countless national leaders who have fought and safeguarded freedom and democracy as they were honed by the libertarian traditions of the country’s premier state university.”
He said that in fact, 13 of the last 20 chief justices of the Supreme Court were graduates of the UP College of Law.
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