In the Duterte government's latest crackdown against dissent, the Department of National Defense (DND) unilaterally terminated the 1989 University of the Philippines (UP)-DND accord that prevented state forces from entering any of its campuses.
The termination was made public on Monday night, January 18. But Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana officially notified the university about the abrogation in his letter to UP President Danilo Concepcion on January 15, citing reported baseless in-campus recruitment activities of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People's Army (CPP-NPA).
Lorenzana said that the agreement was a "hindrance in providing effective security, safety, and welfare of the students, faculty, and employees of UP."
According to the defense chief, he ended the deal on his "own volition" and not because President Rodrigo Duterte instructed him to.
Prior to this, Duterte himself had branded UP as a recruitment ground for the CPP-NPA. He even threatened to defund the country's premier university in November 2020 for supposedly calling for a nationwide academic strike against the administration's negligence in responding to recent typhoons and the pandemic. It was students from the Ateneo de Manila University who did so.
The UP-DND accord was an agreement signed on June 30, 1989 by then-UP president Jose Abueva and then-defense chief Fidel V. Ramos. The agreement laid down the guidelines on military and police operations inside the university.
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) Secretary General Renato Reyes Jr told Rappler Monday night that the agreement succeeded the 1982 Soto-Enrile accord, which was "borne out of the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship."
The Soto-Enrile accord was signed between student leader Sonia Soto and then-defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile to protect students from the police and military presence in schools intended to suppress dissent and protest actions.
Reyes said the case of Donato Continente, a staffer of the UP campus publication Philippine Collegian arrested on June 19, 1989 by the military and police at Vinzons Hall, set a precedent for the UP-DND accord that was signed two weeks later.
Continente was convicted in the April 1989 assassination of US army Colonel James Nicholas Rowe in Quezon City. He was meted life imprisonment but the Supreme Court reduced his sentence to 14 years after ruling 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.
The principal suspect, Juanito Itaas, was arrested in Davao City in August 1989. He too said he was tortured into admitting to the crime.
Reyes said the deal was signed so that the Continente incident would not happen again.
Below is the copy of the agreement:
Legal expert Tony La Viña said that this latest development is "but a part of the government’s long-standing crusade to silence anyone who is opposed to its views."
The UP campuses have been a refuge for student activism since the 1980s – a result of a long history of student disappearances, killings, and police and military violence within the vicinity of the campuses.
La Viña said that the defense department had "no right to unilaterally terminate the agreement."
"The 1989 accord did not provide for an exit clause. As such, both parties should agree to terminate this mutual pact," La Viña explained.
He added that Lorenzana's letter just "red-tagged students who are fearlessly standing up for what they believe in. There is no legal basis to terminate the 1989 accord."
According to La Viña, the agreement was based on UP’s academic freedom, enshrined not just in its Charter, but also in the 1987 Philippine Constitution.
"The DND has failed to show any overriding public interest to interfere with UP’s academic freedom. It did not show any clear and present danger which can limit a student or a professor’s civil liberty," he said.
Meanwhile, Reyes said that the termination of the deal has implications on youth activism in the country.
"Everything that the accord prohibits, the DND now wants allowed. 'Yung dating bawal, puwede na. 'Yung dating safeguards, wala na (Those that were prohibited are now allowed. The past safeguards are now gone.) That is the implication of the accord's termination," he said in a Facebook post Monday night. – Rappler.com