MANILA (3rd UPDATE) — The Department of National Defense terminated last Friday, Jan. 15, its long-time agreement with the University of the Philippines (UP) that requires prior notification before police and military personnel can enter and conduct operations in the state university's campuses.
On their social media pages on Monday, the UP Office of the Student Regent and the Philippine Collegian posted a photo of a letter sent by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to UP President Danilo Concepcion, notifying the latter about the "unilateral termination" of the UP-DND Accord.
Lorenzana confirmed the letter when asked by ABS-CBN News.
In the letter, Lorenzana said the department was terminating the 1989 agreement to ensure the safety of UP students after some of them have supposedly been identified as members of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People's Army.
"Some of them were killed during the military and police operations, while others were captured and surrendered to the authorities," the letter read.
Lorenzana, however, said the department "does not intend to station military or police inside UP campuses nor do we wish to suppress activist groups, academic freedom and freedom of expression."
"In pursuit of true national peace and development, it is time to terminate or abrogate the existing 'Agreement' with the end view of protecting and securing the institution and youth against the enemies of the Filipino people without sacrificing the freedoms we have preserved for about thirty (30) years since this 'Agreement' was executed," he wrote.
Under the accord, the military and police are barred from entering any UP campus without authorization from the school administration.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan, who served as UP Student Council chair and a Student Regent during his university days, voiced his objection to the "unilateral and arbitrary termination" of the accord.
"Tinutulan natin ang panghihimasok ng diktador noon. UP has always been and will always be a citadel of freedom and democracy," he said.
"Pakiusap lang. Please don't mess with UP," he added.
Labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) condemned the DND's move, calling it as "an outright bastardization of academic freedom, and of our freedoms of speech and thought."
"Lorenzana's act signals greater repression, harassment, and harm among activists, especially youth and students which they had maliciously tagged as communists, and the militarization of campuses," KMU chairperson Elmer Labog said in a statement.
"They will aim to stifle the legitimate struggles fought, not only by students but also by the rest of campus communities which include teachers, vendors, establishment workers among others.
"They also aim to deprive the people's movement of a formidable bastion for protest and a sanctuary to amplify people's struggles," he said.
The National Union of Peoples Lawyers (NUPL) also denounced the termination of the agreement, calling the unilateral abrogation as "unjustified as it is baseless."
"Notwithstanding the rhetorical disclaimers, this is unmitigated intrusion and a puny attempt at standardization of thinking," NUPL Edre Olalia said in a statement.
"It practically makes the military the students' seatmates."
Olalia said the UP campus has "been the safe haven" for protests and demonstrations of legitimate causes.
"Every inch of the University must be free from draconian designs and a hostile environment."
The College Editors Guild of the Philippines meanwhile said the DND's move is a "death signature to the long-standing resistance of the UP community."
"Clearly, these grounds to terminate UP-DND accord are not only desperate measures of the current administration in silencing critical voices of dissent but damages the integrity of the University of the Philippines, an institution that has produced generations of 'iskolar ng bayan' ready to enter the crucible of service to the Filipino people," the CEGP said in a statement.
"Moreover, the following terms of the UP-DND accord are but an excuse of the Duterte regime to layout its counter-insurgency measures within the university and herald its anti-people policies promulgated within the current Ant-Terrorism Act of 2020.
"Hence, the termination of the aforementioned accord will only perpetuate the dire threats of red-baiting, campus militarization, and open more windows for abuse to prosper!" it said.
The CEGP called on campus publications and youth groups to "resist these vestiges of state fascism and stand firm in the fight for academic freedom."
"The University of the Philippines being an academic institution is a 'zone of peace,' never to be subjected to the prospects of militarization or other repressive state mechanisms. Furthermore, the Guild holds the Duterte administration and Lorenzana accountable for the aftermath of abuses that shall concur through the termination of the UP-DND accord," it said.
Kabataan Party-list emphasized the youth will not be daunted by the latest moves of the administration to allegedly curtail freedom of expression.
"Hindi matatakot ang mga kabataan sa lahat ng pakana at atake ng rehimen laban sa mga kabataan na aktibong nakikilahok at nakikibaka para sa mga karapatan ng mamamayan. Hindi magtatagumpay ang pasistang diktadura ni Duterte laban sa lakas ng nagkakaisang Pilipino," it said,
The UP administration earlier denied accusations by President Rodrigo Duterte that it recruited students to join the communist insurgency.
Duterte made the allegation as he threatened to defund the state university for supposedly calling for an academic strike against the administration's alleged negligence in responding to disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic, mistaking it for students from the Ateneo de Manila University.
-- with reports from Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News