The Integrated Bar of the Philippines said Friday the agreement between the University of the Philippines and the Department of National Defense did not obstruct law enforcers from doing their police and security duties.
This coincided with a push by some legislators for the adoption of a resolution urging the leadership of the House of Representatives to call on the Department of National Defense to respect its agreement with the University of the Philippines.
Anakalusugan party-list Rep. Michael Defensor said the proposed resolution would appeal to the DND to reconsider the termination of the 1989 accord which prohibits soldiers and policemen from entering the premises of UP campuses without prior notice to the university.
IBP president Domingo Egon Cayosa said in a statement.”The U.P.-DND accord does not and should not hinder legitimate law enforcement and security operations as the agreement specifically provides that ‘nothing herein shall be construed as a prohibition against the enforcement of the laws of the land,’”
Cayosa also cited UP’s institutional autonomy as a national university under Republic Act 9500 or the UP Charter.
However, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana unilaterally terminated the accord purportedly to protect students from alleged communist recruitment.
Various sectors denounced the action of the DND, saying it threatened the freedom that made the university a safe space for protests for decades.
Major General Edgard Arevalo, spokesman for the military, defended the DND action, saying the pact was contrary to public interest for requiring state forces to notify UP officials before conducting operations in campus, an extra step that he said might make them lose their suspects.
The UP Diliman’s Department of Chemical Engineering bewailed Arevalo’s statement, saying the military should “refrain from issuing hypothetical statements absent of any factual basis.”
Cayosa said the DND could legally terminate the accord, but that prior consultation with UP would have been “more ideal.”
When asked on whether UP could challenge the termination, Cayosa replied: “They can go to court but chances are slim.”
The IBP executive stressed that it may “not be practical or wise to force another agency to remain in an agreement” if it no longer wants to.
Nonetheless, Cayosa insisted that academic freedom, a right guaranteed by the Constitution, should be enjoyed in UP with or without the agreement with the DND.
“Diverse groups, including those who oppose the government, conduct recruitment in U.P. as they do in many other schools. Nevertheless, what truly impels and fuels dissent is not U.P. or its tradition of critical thinking and activism but the injustice, corruption, incompetence, abuse and oppression, poverty or hopelessness that citizens may experience or discern,” he said.
“Academic freedom, freedom of expression and association, due process, privacy, and other fundamental rights are guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution. These basic rights cannot be taken away by the unilateral scrapping of an agreement for operational coordination,” the IBP president added.
Reps. Kit Belmonte of Quezon City and Stella Quimbo of Marikina City joined the initiative, according to Defensor. The three lawmakers are members of UP alumni.
“The 1989 accord should be respected, and in fact, should be reinstated. I appeal to the Department of National Defense, Secretary [Delfin] Lorenzana, to let UP exercise its academic freedom,” Defensor said.
Earlier, Belmonte filed House Bill 8443 or the Academic Freedom Act of 2021, institutionalizing state universities and colleges as freedom spaces.
Belmonte said the bill aimed to declare schools and state universities and colleges (SUCs) as freedom spaces where academic freedom is guaranteed. It also recognizes that SUCs shall exercise full acts of ownership over their properties, which would require coordination with and authorization from school administrations for the state to conduct security operations within the school premises.
Under the bill, no permit should be required by the national or local government for any person or persons to organize and hold a public assembly in SUCs.
The bill also prescribes that uniformed personnel should also not interfere with peaceful protest action by SUC constituents within SUC premises.
The bill reiterates the provision in the UP-DND accord that uniformed personnel cannot conduct any operation inside these academic institutions without prior coordination with their officials.