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Students say end of UP-DND pact ‘desperate measure’ against dissent

Several student councils and groups on Tuesday, January 19, denounced the termination of the government’s decades-long accord with the University of the Philippines (UP) that prevented state forces from entering its campuses.

Student councils across the UP system said that the termination of the 1989 UP-Department of National Defense (DND) accord will endanger students and put them at further risk of red-tagging, as they warned of the possible repercussions of the move.

The College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) said the termination is among the “desperate measures of the current administration in silencing critical voices of dissent.”

The CEGP said that the termination of the accord will not only “jeopardize academic freedom but [also] the very existence of a democratic sphere.”

“The UP-DND accord is a safeguard not only for academic freedom of students and educators but a safeguard for press freedom of campus publications, the right of academic employees to organize unions and the right of youth organizations and student council formations to host activities that forge a critical sphere within the university,” it said.

The College of Social Science and Philosophy Student Council (CSSP) and student organizations said in a unity statement echoed this sentiment.

“Campus militarization will not produce the so-called ‘true national peace and development’ that DND Secretary [Delfin] Lorenzana wishes to achieve. Instead, it will pave the way for the suppression of student activism and the arbitrary red-tagging of every person who dares to speak out against this tyrannical regime,” they said.

Hard lessons

In a letter to the UP president Danilo Concepcion, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that the accord was "terminated or abrogated effective this date." He justified the move by citing alleged in-campus recruitment activities of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, which the Duterte government branded as terrorist organizations.

Lorenzana claimed that with the termination the agreement, the Department of National Defense does not “intend to station military or police inside UP campuses, nor do we wish to suppress activist groups, academic freedom, and freedom of expression.”

Several students groups, however, called Lorenzana's assurance an “empty promise." They said that there have been instances where authorities dispersed public demonstrations near UP campuses and protesters were "violently attempted to be silenced."

The UP Mindanao University Student Council cited the arrest of at least 8 activists during a protest near UP Cebu against the then-anti-terrorism bill in June 2020. The rally started peacefully until police in combat gear arrived to disperse them. Videos showed cops, some in plain clothes, entering the campus and chasing down students.

The UP campuses have been a refuge for student activism since the 1980s – a result of a long history of student disappearances, killings, and police and military violence within the vicinity of the campuses.

This was especially seen during the pandemic and the implementation of the anti-terror law, when UP campuses were go-to safe spaces for protests.

The UP-DND agreement has also protected academic freedom in UP campuses.

“Through its protection, students are able to fully pursue the arts and sciences without fear of unwarranted attacks from fascist elements who unjustly label them as enemies. Under constant attack by the very state that now takes this safeguard away, the government is infringing on every UP students’ right to feel safe inside their school,” said the Bukluran UP system.

Should the termination of the accord be implemented, police and military can freely enter UP campuses. This, student groups warned, will “intensify red-tagging operations and abuse towards students who practice their right to dissent.”

“The termination of the UP-DND Accord will only ensure more of such violence, and without a space and security to exercise our democratic rights, our plight for true peace, equality, and freedom is compromised,” said the UP Mindanao University Student Council.

'Further peril'

The UP Manila University Student Council pointed out that the dangers that come with the termination of the 1989 UP-DND accord are further amplified with the implementation of the anti-terror law. 

Prior the termination of the accord, President Rodrigo Duterte himself had accused UP of recruiting communists, which the UP community flatly denounced.

Student groups fear that the termination of the agreement, paired with the anti-terror law, will make students activists more vulnerable to red-tagging.

“The AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and PNP (Philippine National Police) are the same institutions that are responsible for the crackdown against human rights defenders and critiques of the present administration. By openly accusing members of the UP community as terrorists, the state puts the lives of students in danger and further peril,” said the UP Baguio University Student Council.

The UP Manila University Student Council, for its part, said, “When the state has exhibited unrelenting disrespect for human rights, our trust rests anywhere but the very institutions supposed to protect us.”

#DefendUP

Student councils across the UP system also called on the public and the UP administration to help maintain UP’s status as a “zone of peace and academic freedom.”

“We call on the UP administration to act swiftly and decisively regarding this matter in order to ensure the safety and security of its constituents. At times like this, the UP administration has the duty to prioritize the welfare and safety of the UP community especially as numerous attacks and harm has continuously been done by the government. There should be no place in UP for such blatant attacks,” said UP Alyansa.

The CSSP Student Council and organizations stressed the need for safeguards like the UP-DND accord "that can protect the students, faculty, and those seeking refuge on campus, such as the Lumad Bakwit School, from such dangers and violence."

"In its absence, we leave ourselves vulnerable to all forms of oppression that the anti-terror law is attempting to institutionalize,” they said.

Several UP chancellors have also denounced the termination of the accord, UP Los Baños Chancellor Jose Camacho Jr promised that they will not back down, while UP President Danilo Concepcion expressed "grave concern" over the termination of the accord.

In a statement signed by over 100 members of the Upsilon Sigma Phi Fraternity of UP, the group condemned the termination of the UP-DND accord and raised concerns on how this move will affect academic freedom.

“The poorly vetted information and intelligence that the military acts upon, as evidenced by the recent embarrassment of senior intelligence officers….will set back our development and integration as a nation,” the group said, noting how the UP community was especially targeted.

They stressed how student activism, protests, criticism in the media, and even community outreach projects have “unnecessarily become life-threatening activities.” The group also expressed their support for dialogue between the DND and the University.

Here are other statements of groups on the termination of the agreement:

– Rappler.com