MANILA — Defending his move to unilaterally terminate a law enforcement agreement between the Department of National Defense and the University of the Philippines, Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Wednesday cited "equal protection of law" as he questioned why only the country's premier state university has such kind of "treatment."
"Ang dami namang universities dito, nandiyan 'yong Ateneo, La Salle, San Beda. Wala naman silang gan'yang agreement... The freedom of expression is there... Academic freedom is there. Lahat ng freedom, they enjoy," Lorenzana said in a news briefing.
"So how come that they will equate the abrogation of this contract na mini-militarize namin 'yong UP?", he added, referring to the 1989 Abueva-Ramos Accord that requires the police and military to notify the school administration before conducting operations inside UP campuses.
"Only UP has this kind of agreement. Why? What makes UP so special to have this kind of treatment?" he said.
Lorenzana notified UP President Danilo Concepcion of the DND's abrogation of the pact effective immediately last Friday, Jan. 15, supposedly to prevent students from being recruited into the communist insurgency.
Then UP President Jose Abueva and then Defense Secretary Fidel Ramos signed the accord following the abduction of Donato Continente, a staff of the student publication Philippine Collegian, inside the UP Diliman campus in Quezon City.
Concepcion, in his letter reply to Lorenzana on Tuesday, explained that the agreement was secured "not to evade or weaken the law, but to protect the climate of academic freedom—guaranteed by the Constitution—that makes intellectual inquiry and human and social advancement possible."
"Given our experience of martial law, we must reject any form or semblance of militarization on our campuses, which will have a chilling effect deleterious to academic freedom," Concepcion said as he urged Lorenzana to revoke the abrogation.
Critics of Lorenzana's decision said the move was meant to stifle academic freedom and political dissent.
Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Edgard Arevalo, speaking in the same press briefing, said the abrogation was not meant to impair the UP community's freedom of speech and assembly, citing the protest held at the Diliman campus on Tuesday.
"Paglabas nga nung statement ni SND (Secretary of National Defense) abrogating it, nag-rally sila eh... Wala namang nahuli sa kanila," he said.
Known for its tradition of activism, UP hosts a number of protest actions, including last year's demonstration against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.
"Dapat lahat, pantay-pantay, lahat ang mga schools... Let's be fair to everybody here. Masyado nang napapaburan itong UP because of this agreement. So, kung sa kanila, they are enjoying this, I think, give it to Ateneo, La Salle, San Beda, every school here in Metro Manila, para pantay-pantay. Sabi nga ni Atty. Arevalo, equal protection of the law," Lorenzana said.
The defense chief said the incident that triggered the forging of the agreement happened "too long ago", and "time has changed."
Arevalo said the agreement deprived the public of "their right to be ensured to be safe" since the police were required to notify the school's officials before serving arrest or search warrants inside UP campuses.
"Paano na lamang kung may shabu laboratory sa loob ng (What if there's a shabu laboratory inside) University of the Philippines community or campus, and then may valid arrest warrant or search warrant?" he said.
In his letter reply, Concepcion said UP "does not and cannot fear the fair and speedy enforcement of the law, and we value and appreciate the contributions of our uniformed services to our safety and security."
He said UP only wants to maintain the academic institution "as a safe haven for all beliefs and forms of democratic expression" as he declared that it does "not condone sedition, armed insurrection, or the use of violence for political ends."
Concepcion said "the agreement never stood in the way of police and security forces conducting lawful operations within our campuses."
"With few exceptions, protocols were observed and any problems or misunderstandings were amicably and reasonably resolved... Entry was always given when necessary to law enforcers within their mandate," he said.
Lorenzana expressed willingness to discuss his decision with relevant officials, but asked for an explanation of alleged deaths of UP students in government operations against communist rebels.
"Indeed, UP has bred rebels and nonconformists—as well as it has bred presidents, senators, congressmen, and business, civic, and even military leaders," Concepcion had said.
"All the world’s great universities have produced the same range of thinkers and doers... Our police and military authorities should have no fear of academic freedom."
Lorenzana said he also welcomes the congressional inquiry proposed by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman.
"If they call me for, I will welcome that. I welcome this inquiry," he said.
Lagman on Wednesday filed a resolution calling on the House Committee on Human Rights to conduct an inquiry in aid of legislation on the abrogation of the agreement.