MANILA — The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Wednesday questioned the Department of National Defense’s (DND) decision to terminate its pact with the University of the Philippines (UP) restricting access of state forces to its campuses, as it described the unilateral act as “alarming.”
In a statement, CHR said the 1989 UP-DND Accord assured the public’s freedom to express dissent and to protest, and the exercise of academic freedom. The accord was signed between then UP President Jose Abueva and then Defense Secretary Fidel Ramos, establishing guidelines on military and police operations inside the university.
The abrogation, thus, allows state authorities to enter UP campuses at any time.
“The UP-DND Accord is more than an agreement limiting the entry of State forces in any of the UP campuses. Seen from a history of abuse of power since the dictatorship, it serves as an assurance [that forms of dissent] will be respected by the government, particularly by the police and military,” the constitutional body explained.
CHR added that the DND’s unilateral termination at a time of mounting human rights violations cast “further doubts” on the department’s intent, which “aggravates the climate of distrust towards the government.”
“DND should have appealed to good judgment in expressing concerns to UP and finding ways to move forward, instead of immediately abrogating the Accord, in pursuit of the best interest of all,” the statement read.
“The exercise of academic freedom, such as by conducting ideological discourses or even by holding non-violent protest activities against the government, is not the threat to State security contemplated under the law which would justify intervention by the armed forces,” it added.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier in the day announced the government’s plan to scrap similar agreements with other universities. He had said the UP-DND accord was terminated as the university has allegedly been a breeding ground of communist rebels.
The university, which has produced presidents and other top government officials, world-class scientists, doctors and engineers, national artists, and other top professionals, said the pact's abrogation impinges upon academic freedom.
Several university officials, human rights advocates, and lawmakers also denounced the DND’s move as an assault on the University’s academic freedom.
Suppression of academic freedom, political and civil rights?
The agreement also recognized the expression of intellectual dissent, which is part of academic freedom. The unilateral termination, therefore, was a cause for alarm, the CHR said.
UP’s officials, faculty members and students echoed this, noting that the UP community’s freedom to think and express criticism has helped the nation thrive.
“There is no justification for government to stifle the legitimate exercise of rights guaranteed under the constitution, including that of academic freedom within universities. And there is no need for any accord on this,” the commission said.
It also urged the government to put its attention to issues involving public health, poverty, advancing social justice, and ensuring good governance, among others.
“The Commission urges the DND to reconsider its position on this matter with the end in mind that the government should always work on improving the people’s enjoyment of their rights, and not diminishing or undermining them.”