ONE YEAR after the Defense Department unilaterally ended the 1989 accord to keep police and military personnel off the campuses of the University of the Philippines (UP), the Senate has an opportunity to restore—and institutionally protect—the agreement that kept students and faculty safe from possible abuses.
In January 2021, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzano, citing alleged “clandestine recruitment” of students into communist organizations, said his department had ended the three-decade-old agreement with the premier state university that barred police and military personnel from entering any of its campuses without notifying school officials.
He charged that the agreement was being used by communist recruiters and supporters as a shield, and that it was being terminated for the reasons of national security and the safety of UP students.
The unilateral decision has since been denounced by university officials, lawmakers, activists and UP alumni, who saw it as a form of intimidation and an assault on academic freedom.
In September, the House of Representatives approved a bill institutionalizing the 1989 accord—but administration lickspittles filed a belated and irregular motion in October to block the bill, which passed on third reading on Sept. 21.
In the upper chamber, meanwhile, Senator Joel Villanueva, chairman of the Senate committee on higher education, said he was prepared to sponsor the committee report seeking to institutionalize the 1989 agreement to uphold academic freedom.
Senate Bill No. 2002 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.
“Except in cases of hot pursuit and similar occasions of emergency… no member of the AFP, the PNP, or other law enforcement agencies shall enter the premises of any of the UP campuses or regional units,” the bill reads.
The service of search and arrest warrants within UP premises shall be done after prior notification is given to the university, it added.
The bill also states that the arrest or detention of any UP student, faculty, or personnel anywhere in the Philippines must be reported immediately by the responsible head of the AFP, PNP, or other law enforcement agency unit to the university authorities. They shall not be subjected to custodial investigation without prior notice to UP authorities.
Senators Nancy Binay, Grace Poe, and Sonny Angara, who all studied in UP, co-authored the bill. Activists have urged other UP alumni such as Senators Frank Drilon, Richard Gordon, Francis Pangilinan, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Pia Cayetano, Aquilino Pimentel III and Cynthia Villar to support the bill.
We can probably discount administration loyalists and rabid anti-communists in the Senate, but in this election year, the public will be watching which of our lawmakers stand up for academic freedom, and which of them side with red tagging and intimidation.