A sneak attack on academic freedom

"Students should be encouraged to engage in open discussion and debate on critical issues, as this is necessary for our democracy to flourish."


Is this administration hell-bent on destroying the University of the Philippines as a citadel of academic freedom and critical thinking and transforming it into, well, sort of a Duterte Diehards School or DDS?

That’s what it looks like from where we sit, with the Department of National Defense (DND), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) ganging up on the premier State University.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, a former army general, delivered the opening salvo against UP by unilaterally abrogating an agreement between the government and the university; the agreement bars the unauthorized presence of police and military on UP campuses. In a press conference, he showed pictures of UP students who he said had been killed by government troops in encounters with anti-government rebels. He even referred to the UP Police Force as a “private army.”

The AFP then charged that UP has long been monitored as a recruiter of members of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA). The abrogation of the agreement was needed, a spokesman said, as this would give them the chance to conduct seminars among students and faculty and wean them away from the influence of the CPP-NPA.

The PNP, for its part, joined the fray by claiming that the barangay where the university is located is also a “crime hotspot.” The PNP spokesperson said Barangay UP Diliman ranked the 20th among the 142 barangays that have been “in the peace and order indicator” of Quezon City since 2016.

Quoting figures from the National Crime Information Reporting and Analysis System, the Camp Crame spokesman said index crimes in Barangay UP Diliman from 2016 to 2020 included 250 drug-related offenses, 106 thefts, 72 robberies, 36 physical injuries, 21 rapes, 14 murders, 23 car thefts and two robberies with homicide. The non-index crimes were illegal gambling, malicious mischief, violence against women and their children, direct assault, forcible abduction, homicide, acts of lasciviousness, estafa, child abuse, public health violations and obstruction of justice.

But the PNP appeared to be engaged in not-so-subtle gaslighting. Linking UP Diliman Campus to adjacent barangays and claiming that it is a hotbed of criminality is not only malicious but dangerous as it endangers the lives and safety of the UP community. In fact, a UP spokesperson later clarified, the main UP Diliman campus is distinct and separate from the parts of seven other barangays—Krus na Ligas, San Vicente, Botocan, Culiat, Old Capitol Site, Pansol and Vasra —that comprise the 493-hectare UP Diliman property.

Besides, the UP Diliman campus is the responsibility of the UP administration, while Barangay UP Diliman is under the supervision of the Department the Interior and Local Government and the Quezon City local government.

But we prefer to listen to what lawyers have to say about the crux of the matter.

The agreement between UP and the barring the unauthorized presence of police and military on campuses, according to Domingo Cayosa, national president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), specifically provides that “nothing herein shall be construed as a prohibition against the enforcement of the laws of the land.”

Cayosa, a UP alumnus, reminded the administration that recruitment to communist groups and other organizations opposing the government did not only happen in UP. “Diverse groups, including those who oppose government, conduct recruitment in U.P. as they do in many other schools. Nevertheless, what truly impels and fuels dissent is not U.P. or its tradition of critical thinking and activism but the injustice, corruption, incompetence, abuse and oppression, poverty or hopelessness that citizens may experience or discern,” he explained.

The IBP is correct in pointing out that the DND should have conducted talks with the UP administration before unilaterally revoking the agreement. 

“With or without the UP-DND agreement, academic freedom and all the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and the laws of the land should be enjoyed in UP, or in any other university. UP can continue to responsibly use public funds to develop the best, brightest and critical minds, allow free expression of different ideas without fear of persecution, do outstanding research, meaningful extension and social work for nation-building,” he explained.

Still, he maintained that the government should respect UP’s autonomy as a center for academic freedom, as enshrined in the Constitution.

“Considering its institutional autonomy as a National University under R.A. 9500, primary authority and responsibility for effective security, safety, and welfare of the students, faculty and employees of UP rests with the officials of the UP System, not with the Department of National Defense or other government agencies/units,” he emphasized.

We agree completely with the stand of the national lawyers’ group. UP should be given free rein in asking questions about what’s happening in Philippine society. Students should be encouraged to engage in open discussion and debate on critical issues, as this is necessary for our democracy to flourish. More than this, we unequivocally support UP’s untrammeled exercise of freedom of speech and expression and the right to peaceably assemble for redress of grievances as guaranteed by the fundamental law.

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Topics: Ernesto Hilario , University of the Philippines , UP , Department of National Defense , DND , Armed Forces of the Philippines , AFP , Philippine National Police , PNP , academic freedom
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