Leni Robredo

Robredo: End of UP-DND deal ‘designed to silence criticism’

Mara Cepeda
Robredo: End of UP-DND deal  ‘designed to silence criticism’

OPPOSITION LEADER. Vice President Leni Robredo addresses the nation in a Facebook Live video on September 28, 2020.

File photo by OVP

The Philippine opposition leader hopes Filipinos would 'stand our ground and speak out' against the latest move to stifle dissent

Vice President Leni Robredo on Tuesday, January 19, questioned the Duterte’s government decision to end its deal with the University of the Philippines (UP) that has kept state forces from freely entering its campuses over the last 3 decades.

The Philippine opposition leader, a UP graduate, said in a statement that the government’s unilateral termination of the 1989 accord supposedly to stop in-campus communist recruitment, is “designed” to muzzle dissent.

“If this was simply about law enforcement, all the Accord asks is that military authorities give notice to University officials before any operations in UP.  This is neither a difficult nor onerous rule, and 5 Presidents since 1989 have managed to protect both the UP community and the Republic without breaking it,” she said.

“Clearly, then, this is not a practical gesture, but a symbolic one. One designed to sow fear. One designed to discourage dissent. One designed to silence criticism,” Robredo added.

The scrapping of the deal has been widely condemned, as students and various groups blasted the Duterte government for militarizing campuses

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‘Stand our ground, speak out’

Robredo expressed hope that the development would prompt Filipinos to stand their ground against this latest affront to freedom of speech.

“It is now up to us to decide whether we will give in. Or whether, at long last, we will stand our ground and speak out. In this, my faith remains firm, we will find our courage and do what needs to be done,” said Robredo.

The Vice President recalled that the UP-DND accord was signed in the wake of the warrantless arrest of Donato Continente, a staffer of the UP campus publication Philippine Collegian, inside Vinzons Hall on June 19, 1989.

Continente was convicted in the April 1989 murder of US army Colonel James Nicholas Rowe and was supposed to serve a life term but the Supreme Court later reduced his sentence to 14 years after it ruled that he was only an accomplice. Continente maintained his innocence upon his release in 2005 and said he was tortured to admit to a crime he did not commit.

Robredo noted that the deal was forged 3 years after the ouster of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, whose 21-year rule was marred by corruption, media oppression, as well as killings, torture, and disappearances of government dissenters.

“The Accord was an effort to ease apprehensions, not just within the UP community, but among the public at large, that the reign of violence and terror that held sway during the dictatorship had never really gone away,” Robredo said.

Robredo said the goal of the UP-DND deal was not to exempt UP or any community from the law, “but to send the clear message that in a democracy, even a fledgling one, law enforcement was conducted following clear rules, within defined limits.”

“That in a democracy, there was no place for relentless war waged across all borders, without oversight or accountability, against any person those in power had decided to brand ‘an enemy,'” she said.

She added: “The unilateral scrapping of the decades-old Accord sends the opposite message: That under this administration, anyone, anywhere, at anytime, is fair game.” – 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.