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Safer UP? Student leaders point to history of government harassment

Student leaders of the University of the Philippines are not buying the government’s reason for unilaterally ending the 1989 agreement that limited the entry of the police and military in UP campuses.

In a Rappler Talk interview on Tuesday, January 19, the student leaders pointed to the police and military’s long history of harassment against students as proof to distrust the Duterte government’s intentions.

“They are putting a facade that they want to protect us, when in fact, for the longest time, they're the ones who would harass, who would abduct, who would kill,” said UP Los Baños Student Council chairperson Jainno Bongon.

This comes after the Duterte administration abruptly ended the 1989 UP-Department of National Defense (DND) accord, citing alleged in-campus recruitment of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army – a claim that is still unsubstantiated.

UP Cebu Student Council chairperson Aura Agbay believes that the decision is linked to the government's bid to "control public opinion."

“The real agenda is not to protect the students but to control public opinion, to control the people’s consciousness through regulation of discussions in campuses. It’s because discussions about policies start here,” Agbay said.

Students have been among the most vocal critics of the government under any administration, following a long tradition of protests. They usually hold protests in and near their campuses to prevent police harassment. With the UP-DND accord scrapped under the Duterte government, they worry about more intimidation.

UP Mindanao Student Council chairperson Bruce Gamad pointed out that there is an Army reserve command detachment inside their campus. He said the troopers have been surveilling student protesters. He anticipated continued military and the police harassment with the termination of the agreement.

UP Diliman student regent-elect Renee Louise Co pointed out that the distrust of students did not come from any radicalization efforts within the campus, but from the way the military and the police have treated them.

“The historical sentiment is shared – fear and the weariness against the police. This is not out of education but simply because of how they act, how they hold themselves sparks fear into the hearts, into the minds of the UP community,” Co said. – Rappler.com

Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.

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