MANILA — Vice President Leni Robredo and several lawmakers and progressive youth groups have condemned the Department of National Defense's (DND) move to end its decades-old agreement with the University of the Philippines (UP) that prohibits uniformed personnel from entering UP campuses without notifying school officials.
Robredo, in a statement, said the termination of the 1989 UP-DND accord was clearly meant to silence government critics.
"This is not a practical gesture, but a symbolic one. One designed to sow fear. One designed to discourage dissent. One designed to silence criticism," said opposition leader Robredo, noting how 5 previous presidents managed to protect both the UP community and the country without breaking the agreement.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan, who served as UP Student Council chair and student regent during his university days, also voiced his objection.
"Tinutulan natin ang panghihimasok ng diktador noon (We opposed intervention of the dictator then). UP has always been and will always be a citadel of freedom and democracy," he said in a Twitter post.
In separate tweets, Pangilinan also stressed the historical significance of the 1981 Soto-Enrile agreement, a precursor of the 1989 Abueva-Ramos deal on restricting the entry of state forces in the university.
"The agreement was forged when a synchronized nationwide student boycott was successfully organized but many student activists were arrested and jailed," Pangilinan said.
In condemning the termination, Kabataan Party-list Rep. Sarah Elago stressed the role of academic institutions in upholding human rights and democracy.
"This brazen step signals intensified attacks on academic freedom and increasing violations of human rights of students, teachers and education stakeholders," said Elago, a UP alumna.
"For education institutions to fulfill their significant role in upholding human rights and democracy, they must be protected from ruling regimes' undue pressures and dictates," she added.
For House Deputy Minority Leader Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, the cancellation of the agreement is a continuation of the Duterte administration's "crackdown" against "independent thinkers and those critical of its policies."
"UP is known for its openness to ideas and debates as well as academic freedom, these are the ideals that the DND are trying to suppress by unilaterally abrogating the accord," he said.
ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. France Castro also said the move is "an attempt to witchhunt red-tagged critics from the UP faculty and students."
Eyti Banico of the Student Christian Movement of the Philippines-UP Diliman chapter said the accord is needed now more than ever due to "heightened red-tagging."
In late November, President Rodrigo Duterte claimed that UP was recruiting students for the communist insurgency, which the university administration denied.
The College Editors Guild of the Philippines, the oldest alliance of tertiary student publications in the country, said the grounds to terminate the accord damage the integrity of UP, "an institution that has produced generations of 'iskolar ng bayan' ready to enter the crucible of service to the Filipino people."
The Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan noted that government decided to cancel the deal "at a time when campus activities have been moved completely online."
On Friday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana notified UP President Danilo Concepcion through a letter that the DND was immediately terminating the 1989 agreement.
Lorenzana claimed that the university's campuses have become a "safe haven" for communist rebels.
Concepcion has written back to Lorenzana, asking the defense chief to reconsider and revoke his decision.
— With a report from Zandro Ochona, ABS-CBN News