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UP constituents in Visayas insist campus should remain bastion of academic freedom

The University of the Philippines Visayas (UPV) will continue to stand against any threats to human rights, UPV chancellor Clement Camposano said Monday, January 18, in response to the termination of the UP-DND accord.

In a Facebook post, Camposano said that the academic freedom in the university was "not something anyone can abrogate."

"The University of the Philippines Visayas like the rest of the UP System, will remain a bastion of academic freedom. This is not something anyone can abrogate. We will stand firm against any and all attempts to deprive us of our democratic rights," he wrote.

The brief statement was posted on Monday, hours after news broke of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana's decision to unilaterally terminate the decades-old pact between the University of the Philippines and the Department of National Defense preventing military and police presence in all UP System campuses.

In his official statement posted on Tuesday, January 19, the UP Visayas chancellor pointed to the tumultuous history between UP and the DND as the cause of the university’s apprehension.

"Historical events that have shaped the relationship of UP and the country’s security forces—many of these leaving wounds that have yet to heal—explain the University’s strong apprehension. While the Department of National Defense has given assurances that constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms would not be suppressed, these historical events and the sordid reality of recent killings, abductions, and other forms of human rights abuses widely believed to have been perpetrated by security forces cannot but leave us unassured," he wrote.

Even before the scrapping of the accord, UP System universities in the Visayas have long decried unwarranted military and police presence in their campuses.

One of the most recent instances was the arrest of 8 protestors, collectively known as Cebu 8, during a picket rally against the then anti-terror bill held in front of the UP Cebu campus last June.

Videos of the arrest in social media showed police breaching the walls of UP Cebu to chase students and activists seeking refuge inside the campus.

And despite the government’s assurance that the accord's termination was not meant to suppress activism and academic freedom in UP, students, faculty, and staff from UP Cebu said they have not forgotten about the arrest of Cebu 8.

The Unified Student Organizations of UP Cebu, along with the University Student Council, the All UP Academic Employees Union, and the university's student publication Tug-ani came out with a joint statement condemning the termination.

"We remember the violent dispersal of the June 5th protest against the then Anti-Terrorism Bill last year, wherein armed non-uniformed PNP personnel chased protesters inside the campus and groundlessly detained 8 individuals, including a bystander, now collectively known as the Cebu 8," the statement reads.

The unified organizations also pointed out the arrest of UP Cebu alumna Myles Albasin of Mabinay 6 and the death threats received by faculty union president Regletto Imbong earlier this month as "one of one of the many UP-DND Accord violations and harassments" that had been committed.

They added the termination of the UP-DND agreement was a disrespect to the martyrs from the university who died in the pursuit of democracy during martial law, and enjoined the administration to remain firm against any threats academic freedom.

"For the DND to end this accord is already an admission of either their ignorance of the country’s history or their blatant disrespect of the martyrs who fought for the freedoms we enjoy today and now the Duterte administration is desperately trying to snatch away from us again," they said.

"We collectively call upon the UP Administration, UP Board of Regents to affirm their mandate in ensuring that UP shall remain a zone of peace and refuge; to defend the university against the DND’s attempt of militarizing our schools, and to stand and fight against all fascist maneuvers that threaten our academic freedom and basic rights," they added.

In her official statement, UP Cebu chancellor Liza Corro said the abrogation without consultation of the agreement was "deeply concerning to say the least,", considering the many threats faced by UP Cebu. 

"Especially for us here in UP Cebu, as it came at a time, when our students and faculty members have been subjected to direct intimidation and threats, including red-tagging... We strongly condemned such acts of transgression and bullying," Corro wrote.

She went on to defend Imbong, describing him as an "academic scholar of good standing" who was active not only in the academe but also in campaigning for social justice. 

"His active engagements to help elevate social ills, is inherent in his basic task as a UP constituent, in fact as a good and responsible Filipino citizen. This does not make him an insurgent or a terrorist. We strongly condemn any and all forms of baseless accusations and red-tagging among our constituents, faculty and students alike. They deserve our respect, not harassment," she added.  – Rappler.com