House of Representatives

Kit Belmonte files bill institutionalizing UP-DND accord for all state schools

Mara Cepeda
Kit Belmonte files bill institutionalizing UP-DND accord for all state schools

'FIGHT BACK.' The UP community stages a protest against the UP-DND termination inside the UP Diliman campus in Quezon City on January 19, 2021.

File photo by Jire Carreon/Rappler

'Bakit natin ili-limit sa UP? The right to protect our freedom of speech, our academic freedom – dapat available po sa lahat,' says the LP stalwart

Opposition lawmaker Jose Christopher “Kit” Belmonte wants the now-terminated accord limiting the entry of state forces into the University of the Philippines (UP) to be institutionalized and enforced in all state universities and colleges (SUCs). 

The Quezon City 6th District representative filed House Bill (HB) No. 8443, or the proposed “Academic Freedom Act of 2021” on Thursday, January 21, less than a week after the Department of National Defense (DND) unilaterally terminated its 1989 deal with UP

A Senate bill has also been filed to institutionalize the UP-DND accord by amending the UP charter. But Belmonte is taking it a step further.

Belmonte, who obtained both his economics undergraduate degree and law degree from UP, said academic freedom should be extended to all SUCs in the face of repression by President Rodrigo Duterte’s government

“Bakit natin ili-limit sa UP? This freedom, the right to protect our freedom of speech, our academic freedom – dapat available po sa lahat itong mga prinsipyo na ito. Dapat isama na ito sa mga mandate ng state universities,” said Belmonte in a statement. 

(Why limit to UP? This freedom, the right to protect our freedom of speech, our academic freedom – these principles should be made available to all. We should include these in the mandate of our state universities.)

“History tells us, repression breeds resistance. With the unilateral termination, lalo lang nila papalakihin ang problema instead of solving it,” added the House Deputy Minority Leader.

(History tell us, repression breeds resistance. With the unilateral termination, they will just worsen the problem instead of solving it.)

Under his bill, Belmonte is proposing that all SUCs be recognized as “freedom parks,” where no permits would be required in case people would want to organize and hold public assemblies inside campus grounds. 

If HB 8443 becomes a law, the police and military would also be mandated to “not interfere with peaceful protest action by SUC constituents within SUC premises.”

Just like in the UP-DND accord, uniformed personnel would be allowed to enter SUCs “only upon prior coordination” with the SUC administration. 

The only times the military and the police can enter SUCs are during the following circumstances:

  • When the appropriate SUC official finds it necessary to seek the uniformed personnel’s assistance to beef up security within campus grounds
  • In cases of hot pursuit and similar occasions of emergency
  • In cases of ordinary transit through the premises 

The bill also states that the service of search warrants or warrants of arrest on any SUC student, faculty, or employee should only be done after prior notification to the proper SUC official. 

Belmonte, a stalwart of the once-ruling Liberal Party (LP), urged his colleagues in Congress to back HB 8443 and “protect the freedoms and rights that are flourishing in universities.” 

DND Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has justified the abrogation of the deal by claiming that UP campuses have become a “breeding ground” for extremists. 

But the scrapping of the UP-DND accord has been met with widespread condemnation, with UP President Danilo Concepcion saying is “totally unnecessary and unwarranted.”

Vice President Leni Robredo, LP chairperson, said the end of the UP-DND pact was “designed to discourage dissent” and “designed to silence criticism.”

Senator Francis Pangilinan, president of LP, already led 6 other senators in filing a resolution formally opposing the UP-DND accord’s abrogation.

Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman, another LP stalwart, also filed a resolution calling for a House probe into the “illegal” termination of the UP-DND deal. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.