‘What militarization?’ AFP defends planned presence in schools

JC Gotinga
The military says soldiers would be 'engaging' students during information campaigns and lectures, not curtailing their academic freedom

WHAT MILITARIZATION? AFP Spokesperson Brigadier General Edgard Arevalo holds a press conference on security issues at Camp Aguinaldo on August 15, 2019. File photo by Darren Langit/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The military bristled at accusations that its plan to monitor the activities of leftist groups in schools would curtail academic freedom.

“The entry in schools by members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will not be in the scale and magnitude of a combat deployment,” AFP Spokesperson Brigadier General Edgard Arevalo said on Friday, August 23.

“What militarization?” Arevalo added.

Activists from various universities have strongly opposed a proposal by Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, former Philippine National Police chief, for military presence in schools to prevent students from being recruited by leftist groups.

Security forces claim these leftist groups act as “front organizations” for the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA).

On Tuesday, August 20, students and faculty members from different campuses of the University of the Philippines (UP) walked out of classes and staged rallies protesting “campus militarization,” which the Office of the Student Regent called a “siege” of institutions, activism, and academic freedom.

The chancellors of the Diliman and Cebu campuses as well as several colleges within the UP system backed the protest.

Student groups from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) have also denounced the proposal from legislators, who had zeroed in on PUP as a supposed “hotbed” of communist recruitment.

On Friday, the AFP maintained there is no cause for concern.

“What is so worrisome with soldiers engaging the students during information campaigns, in lectures during symposia; as trainers in subjects like Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Response, and Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism, or as speakers during commencement exercises?” Arevalo said.

Dela Rosa, who heads the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs, has launched a legislative probe into alleged communist recruitment and kidnapping of minors by leftist groups in schools.

In a committee hearing earlier in August, Dela Rosa presented 4 resource persons who said they were former NPA rebels who were recruited when they were students.

They said the CPP-NPA uses student organizations as “legal fronts” to initiate young people into the party and eventually enlist them in its army.

Dela Rosa and other senators in the committee said police and military presence in schools would help prevent students from getting lured and brainwashed by such groups.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año has called for the revival of the anti-subversion law. Several lawmakers have pushed for reinstating the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), or mandatory military training for students in Grades 11 and 12.

They said these would curb the spread of communist insurgency as the government campaigns to end the decades-long rebellion.

In his statement, Arevalo argued that academic freedom should include exposing students “to views and opinions from all sides – even from perceived adversaries – for them to make an informed judgment or an intelligent stand.”

“They pay lip service to academic freedom when they block the opportunity for students to hear the side of the AFP/government on the many accusations hurled against it while they allow NPA recruiters access to the campuses – wittingly or unwittingly,” Arevalo added. – Rappler.com

JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.