MANILA — The defense department failed to consult President Rodrigo Duterte on a move to allow security forces to patrol the campuses of the country's biggest university after authorities accused it of being a breeding ground for communist rebels.
Defense Secretary Defense Lorenzana on Monday scrapped a 1989 agreement that had prevented soldiers and police from entering the 17 campuses of the University of the Philippines (UP) without consent, except during emergencies or when in hot pursuit.
Asked if Lorenzana conferred with Duterte on this, his spokesman Harry Roque said, "As far as I know, he did not."
“It was a decision of the DND as privy or a party of that contract between UP and DND,” he told CNN Philippines.
Roque earlier said the President "supports" the pact's termination.
"Under the doctrine of qualified political agency, unless revoked by the President, acts of his alter ego are valid and acts of the President as well," he said.
CAN DND TERMINATE PACT UNILATERALLY?
Lorenzana had terminated the pact without consulting the university, said its president, Danilo Concepcion, who urged the defense department to reconsider its decision.
A unilateral termination “comes with the caveat that the bought to court it can be declared null and void,” said Roque, citing general rules on obligations and contracts.
A dialogue between Concepcion and Lorenzana “is the proper course of action,” Roque said.
“It is a contract so it should be discussed by the parties,” he said.
The Palace spokesman, who studied from high school and had taught after at UP, said he does "not know how it is to have cops and military people on campus."
"I would say if it worked for 30 years, let’s talk why it should not continue for 30 years," he added, saying this was a personal opinion.
WHAT LORENZANA, ROBREDO SAID
The pact's termination "signals greater repression, harassment and harm among activists, youth and students and other people (who) they maliciously tag as communists, terrorists and will result in the militarization of campuses," Eleanor de Guzman, secretary for human rights of a left-wing labor group, told a crowd of about 100 protesters on Tuesday.
Lorenzana, justifying the decision to scrap the 1989 agreement, said in a statement the 112-year-old university "has become the breeding ground of intransigent individuals and groups whose extremist beliefs have inveigled students to join their ranks to fight against the government."
A number of UP students, some killed in military operations or captured, had been identified as members of the communist party's armed wing, the defense ministry said in a letter to the university's president, without providing evidence.
Academics and politicians also condemned the scrapping of the agreement saying it threatened academic freedom and opened the door to red tagging.
Vice President Maria Leonor "Leni" Robredo, the opposition leader, said the action was "designed to silence criticism."
Since coming into power in 2016, Duterte's government has seen repeated breakdowns in peace talks with the communist rebels.
His government has stepped up efforts to end a Maoist-led rebellion, one of the world's longest insurgencies that has killed more than 40,000 people.
But the United Nations had warned in a report that "red-tagging," or labelling people and groups as communists or terrorists, and incitement to violence have been rife in the Southeast Asian nation.
- With a report from Reuters