MANILA - The University of the Philippines (UP) and the Department of National Defense on Thursday had a "very cordial, open and fruitful" discussion in their first direct dialogue on their recently abrogated pact about the entry of government troops in the school's campuses, officials said.
Elena Pernia, UP's vice president for public affairs, said Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana acknowledged the importance of academic freedom but aired concerns that it "needs to be clarified" as it can be used by communist rebels as a "shield" for their supposed recruitment of students.
Lorenzana, accompanied by other DND and military officials, met with UP President Danilo Concepcion and other university officials at the Veterans golf club in Quezon City, said Pernia.
The 1989 UP-DND Accord, which Lorenzana unilaterally terminated last Jan. 15, required prior notification before police and military personnel can enter and conduct operations in the state university's campuses. The department alleged that the school has become "a safe haven for enemies of the state."
"Ngayon, siguro mas maliwanang na na meron kaming, at least, mapupuntahan. Kung bago mang agreement ang mangyayari, at least, 'no, ngayon, kumbaga, may way forward na," Pernia said in an interview on ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
(Now, I think it's clearer now that at least, we'll be going somewhere. If ever a new agreement will be forged, at least, now, there's a way forward.)
"We are very optimistic na meron na tayong patutunguhan (that we will head somewhere)," she added, without stating the status of the agreement or what both camps plan to do with it.
Pernia said the talks between the two institutions to iron out their differences over the agreement is just beginning, with the next one set either in the third or fourth week of the month.
"This is just a starting point. This morning's discussion will be continued. It was an opening dialogue. We're both very happy about what happened and we anticipate further discussion," she told ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC) in a separate interview.
"We are clearer now than we were before about where we want to end up," Pernia said.
While talks continue, Pernia said "courtesy" is expected from government law enforcers if they intend to visit UP campuses amid the abrogated accord.
"Siguro, hindi naman yung magba-barge in agad," she said.
(I don't they will just barge in.)
Commission on Higher Education chairman Prospero de Vera, who facilitated the meeting, lauded Lorenzana and Concepcion "for their statesmanship and openness to talk to each other."
“As I have said in my previous statement, both DND and UP have publicly stated their continuing commitment to protect academic freedom, promote the welfare of students, and enforce national laws – all embodied in no less than the Constitution itself,” De Vera said in a statement released after the meeting.
“It is, therefore, crucial that both sides start discussing their concerns and this morning I am happy to bring together UP and DND so that both sides can have an open and frank exchange of views over a wide range of issues related to the accord,” he added.
The termination of the agreement drew public backlash, with students and officials denouncing government and accusing it of trying to stifle academic freedom and dissent with intimidation.
UP has denied allegations it is a hotbed for recruitment into the communist insurgency movement.
Following the abrogation of the pact, some lawmakers have filed bills eyeing to amend the UP Charter to include guidelines on military and police operations inside the university, similar to the ones under the 1989 pact.
Other bills also want the same agreement for all state colleges and universities.