"Is this a government so threatened by questions and so terrified of criticism?"
The Department of National Defense is unilaterally terminating a 1989 agreement between itself and the University of the Philippines that prevents the military and the police from entering the premises of any UP campus without notifying the UP administration.
In a letter to current UP President Danilo Concepcion, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana says they find the agreement a hindrance in providing effective security and safety for the welfare of students, faculty and employees of the state university.
Lorenzana points to the alleged recruitment activities undertaken by the Communist Party of the Philippines—New People’s Army to bolster its membership among UP students. As remedy, he says, and so it could protect the members of the UP community from the Anti-Terrorism Council-declared terrorist organization, the DND has abrogated the agreement signed more than 30 years ago between then-Defense Secretary Fidel Ramos and then-UP President Jose Abueva.
The CPP-NPA’s recruitment activities, Lorenzana claims, seek to “destroy the democracy we have all fought for.” The move, he adds, is “in pursuit of true national peace and development.”
The University’s president and its chancellor have both spoken out against the abrogation of the deal. Both emphasize academic freedom as the essence of the University’s existence, and that UP has produced experts in almost every field precisely because of the space to think, criticize and engage in dialogue with others who may not believe as they do.
Concepcion, in his letter response to Lorenzana, says the abrogation is completely unnecessary and unwarranted and may worsen, rather improve, relations between the DND and the University. The agreement, he says, is grounded on mutual respect. A consultation could have addressed Lorenzana’s concerns; why the haste to terminate an agreement that has served both parties for more than three decades?
“We sought and secured that agreement not to evade or weaken the law, but to protect the climate of academic freedom—guaranteed by the Constitution—that makes intellectual inquiry and human and social advancement possible.”
Meanwhile, Chancellor Fidel Nemenzo, in a statement, says claims about clandestine communist recruitment in the campus, which require rigorous proof, are not grounds to cancel an agreement founded on a constitutional right.
He continues: “Academic freedom is the lifeblood of UP. It is the air our community breathes and thrives on as it nurtures our critical minds and allows our imaginations to soar beyond the boundaries of conventions. In UP, anyone should be able to think and speak out, no matter what he or she espouses. One of the strengths of UP education is the exposure of our students to the widest range of perspectives. We trust that they will employ reason and critical thinking to discern and distinguish truth from lies, and right from wrong.”
UP graduates who now serve in this administration must speak out against this clear assault on academic freedom, open-mindedness and critical thinking.
Secretary Lorenzana, in abrogating a 30-year-old agreement that guarantees that students and teachers in the premier state university may speak out without fear of harassment, is the one who threatens democracy.
UP must be left alone. With the exception of those who do not have the intellectual capacity to use words, not violence, to defend their views, we will all be the better for it.