MANILA — Former University of the Philippines (UP) President Jose Abueva on Wednesday expressed dismay over the Department of National Defense’s (DND) move to unilaterally terminate its pact with the state university preventing uniformed personnel from entering its campuses unless with prior notice.
Abueva signed the accord, together with then Defense Secretary Fidel Ramos in 1989 following the abduction of Donato Continente, a staff of the Philippine Collegian, UP's student publication, inside the UP Diliman campus in Quezon City.
“Former Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos and I had great respect for each other and for the institutions we represented. We had a deep understanding between us about the inalienable rights to freedom, democracy, justice and peace that lasted beyond our respective presidencies,” Abueva said in a statement.
“There was a deep, mutual understanding of the need to uphold this agreement and do everything for the good of UP and the rights of its students, faculty and staff. This understanding was rooted in mutual trust, and mutual respect," he said.
"I am appalled and dismayed about this unilateral abrogation."
On its Facebook page, UP shared an excerpt of Abueva's remarks in 1989: "This agreement is a landmark in the evolution of our democracy, and the protection of the University's academic freedom."
"It also reflects positively on the enlightened leadership of our Department of National Defense and military and police."
UP political science professor Clarita Carlos recalled that during the imposition of Martial Law by former President Ferdinand Marcos, the government "planted students" in the university to monitor discussions in classes.
"Andami sa aming napreso, maraming nag-disappear kasi yung mga 'pretending students' ay nagsumbong sa sinasabi sa klase namin," she said in an interview Tuesday on ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
(Many from the university were jailed, many disappeared because those pretending as students reported whatever we discussed in class.)
Opposing the DND's abrogation of the accord effective last Jan. 15, Carlos warned of a chilling effect to academic freedom in state universities and even in private schools.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said his decision to terminate the agreement is meant to curb the alleged recruitment of UP students into the communist insurgency. UP President Danilo Concepcion has said UP does "not condone sedition, armed insurrection, or the use of violence for political ends."
"You really remove the basic hallmark of a university kung wala siyang academic freedom. And this one is a threat. Kaya lalo siyang nakakatakot kasi invisible threat siya," Carlos said.
(You really remove the basic hallmark of a university if it does not have academic freedom. And this one is a threat. It's even scarier because it is an invisible threat.)
She asserted that the university is the "last sanctuary" of ideas that aim to improve society.
"The university is the last sanctuary for ideas opposing the government, the regime, for whatever reason. Kasi ang mga Iskolar talaga, left-of-center talaga ‘yan. Hindi ‘yan status quo. Ang mga Iskolar, tinatanong talaga kung paano pa mag-iimprove ang sociedad," she said.
(Scholars are really left-of-center. They are not for the status quo. Scholars ask how society can further be improved.)
"Pa'no kung diniscuss ko yung Marxism, and I'm discussing John Locke's right to revolution? 'Pag minis-interpret mo yung discussion ko, 'Aba, si Dr. Carlos, nag-i-incite ng rebolusyon kasi diniscuss niya yung right to revolution'," she said.
(What if I discuss Marxism and John Locke's right to revolution? If you misinterpret me, you can accuse me of inciting to revolution.)
"When you have that thing hanging on your head, certain people - I'm sure I'm not one of them - will certainly be circumspect in the things they declare in their classes. Paano na lang kaming guro, na merong limitation, na parang... 'Ok, ito lang ha? Ganito lang yung sasabihin mo'. No, it doesn't work that way."
(What will happen to us, teachers, if we have limitations, like, you can only say these things?)
Carlos said the university is "set apart from all partisan politics" and "is the best stronghold for liberal democracy."
"It is true, later on, ang mga estudyante namin ay nagpupunta sa pulitika, yung iba namumundok… We allow them to choose. Hindi ako counselor nila na susundan-sundan ko ang mga bata na ‘yan. It’s not my work,” she said, citing National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) consultant Rafael Baylosis and some legislators as among her former students.
(It is true, later on, that some of our students go to politics or others went to the mountains… We allow them to choose. I am not their counselor who follow these kids. It is not my work.)
"'Yang mga batang yan, maiinit ang dugo n'yan. i'm sure, lahat tayo nagdaan when we wanted to change the world. And then, reality hit us. Dati rati, nagtatatakbo rin ako diyan sa harap ng US embassy against military bases. Then, reality struck me. 'Ah, mas mabuti (kung) guro ako. 'Yan ang magiging contribution ko sa society'," she shared.
(Students are passionate about their ideals. I'm sure, all of us went through that part of our lives when we wanted to change the world. And, then, reality hit us. I myself joined protest actions against the US military bases in front the US embassy before. Then, reality struck me. 'I'm fine with being a teacher. That will be my contribution to society'.)
Echoing Concepcion's statement on not espousing violence, Carlos said, "No one in his right mind would like to support the use of arms."
"Kung alam lang nitong mga law enforcement agencies natin, the university is the best stronghold for liberal democracy. 'Yan ang aming pino-profess sa klase. But kailangan, hindi nila saklawan kung ano yung pino-profess namin, kasi yan ang part ng academic freedom," she said.
(If only our law enforcement agencies know, the university is the best stronghold for liberal democracy. That is what we profess in our classes. But, they should not influence what we are professing, because that is part of academic freedom.)
Carlos, the first female and civilian President of the National Defense College of the Philippines, from 1998 until 2001, is hopeful the issue can be resolved in a dialogue, describing Lorenzana as "a fairly reasonable person."
Meanwhile, former political parties Sandigan para sa Mag-aaral at Sambayanan (SAMASA) and Nagkakaisang Tugon (TUGON) said the termination of the pact is also an “assault” on the "institutional autonomy" guaranteed to UP by Congress through its charter, Republic Act No. 9500 (Declaring UP as the National University).”
"We denounce this termination of the 1989 Agreement as a part of this government’s latest initiative against activism and dissent, an initiative heralded by last year’s passage of the Anti-Terror Act of 2020. Indeed, the enforcement of the dangerously amorphous and wide-ranging provisions of this law is comprehensively facilitated by the DND’s termination of the 1989 Agreement,” the two groups said.
Both parties said it is vital for the UP community to exercise its freedom to serve the Filipino people.
“Intellectual liberty is foundational to democracy. From it springs the great freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution to each and every Filipino: free speech and expression, a free press, freedom of association, religious freedom, the right to assemble for the redress of grievances, and academic freedom,” they said.
“To allow the heavy boots of soldiers and police to freely march into UP and harass the community of scholars within its precincts, would be to cede the intellectual liberty that is so essential to UP’s mission for Philippine society, of finding new paths to a better condition for Filipinos, and calling out the powers that lie astride those paths.”
Students, faculty, officials and alumni across the UP system, as well as government officials like Senator Francis Pangilinan and Kabataan party-list representative Sarah Elago, who both served as UP student council officers, and Vice President Leni Robredo have condemned the unilateral termination of the accord.
UP President Danilo Concepcion has written back to Lorenzana, asking the defense chief to revoke his decision.
But Lorenzana asked UP to explain first the alleged death of its students in government operations against communist rebels before agreeing to a dialogue.
Faculty and students of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines are feeling the "chilling effect" of the abrogation of the UP-DND accord, with one PUP professor saying the university's own accord with the government could be next.