The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Wednesday, January 20, expressed alarm over the termination of the government's agreement with the University of the Philippines (UP), especially in the context of the crackdown on dissent in the country.
Signed in 1989, the deal prevented state forces from entering UP campuses without notifying the university administration. (READ: What you need to know about the 1989 UP-DND accord)
In a statement, the commission said the human rights situation under Duterte "serves to further doubts on its intent and aggravates the climate of distrust towards the government."
"Although some quarters may deem it alarmist, it is now legitimate to ask if the government, through the military (not the police), is contemplating the suppression of civil and political rights and academic freedom, within the university," the CHR said.
"Otherwise, why threaten the university with the symbolic act of repudiating the said accord?" it added.
In a letter dated January 15, Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana justified the termination by citing alleged on-campus recruitment activities of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People's Army.
The CHR emphasized that the exercise of academic freedom and the holding of non-violent protests against the government are not security threats that "justify intervention by the armed forces."
"Suppression of guaranteed rights should never be the response to dissent under a democracy," the commission said. "Protests serve as a gauge on how well a government is responding to the needs of a nation."
The termination of the accord is the latest in Duterte's intensifying crackdown on dissent, together with the implementation of the anti-terror law and the culture of impunity. (READ: Duterte ushers in new level of danger for activists, human rights defenders)
The CHR urged the government to address social inequalities instead of trying to suppress legitimate dissent.
"Finding a solution to the country's problems will be better if we can think, discuss, and debate freely; when we can hold leaders accountable to the people; and there is respect for human rights at all times," it said. – Rappler.com
Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.