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Academic freedom and the termination of the UP-DND Accord

#DefendUP and #DefendAcademicFreedom became trending hashtags for the past few days due to the sudden, arbitrary, and unilateral termination by the Department of National Defense of the so-called 1989 University of the Philippines (UP)-DND Accord.

The UP-DND Accord was signed on June 30, 1989 by then UP President Jose Abueva and then Secretary of Defense Fidel V. Ramos, which established certain norms and protocols governing relations between the university and military and police forces.

These protocols include, among others, that prior notification shall be given by the AFP or the PNP to the UP administration before conducting any military or police operations in any of the UP campuses of the eight UP constituent universities, and that, except in cases of hot pursuit or similar emergencies or ordinary transit through UP premises, no member of the AFP or PNP shall enter the premises of any of the UP campuses.

The UP-DND Accord was preceded by the Soto-Enrile Accord of 1981, which stemmed from a letter from then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile to former League of Filipino Students national chair Sonia Soto.

This was intended to protect schools and their students, faculty and staff from police and military incursions intended to suppress dissent and protest actions.

It was also through the activism of our generation, led by the Sandigan Para sa Mag-aaral at Sambayanan (SAMASA) and the Nagkaisang Tugon (TUGON), that the 1981 Soto-Enrile Accord and the 1989 UP-DND Accord were executed.

SAMASA and TUGON were major student political parties during my student days in the 1980s and 1990s at the UP Diliman.

The stated objective of the  unilateral termination is to “reach out to the youth” and “see their Armed Forces and Police as protectors worthy of trust, not fear.”

Ironically, it had an opposite outcome as the DND has earned the reputation as the antagonist of academic freedom due to its overbroad accusations that UP as well as other universities are hotbeds of recruitment by the New People’s Army (NPA).

The government has been releasing propaganda materials maliciously associating critical thinking and dissent to extremism or terrorism.

In a joint statement, former members of SAMASA and TUGON stressed that the termination is an assault on the academic freedom and institutional autonomy that are guaranteed by Republic Act 9500 (Declaring UP as the National University). I am one of the signatories as part of SAMASA.

As intellectual liberty is foundational to democracy, from it springs the great freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution to each and every Filipino: free speech and expression, a free press, freedom of association, religious freedom, the right to assemble for the redress of grievances, and academic freedom, the statement said.

And in no place should academic freedom be most zealously guarded than in our schools and universities, where it stands as the first protection of the unfettered life of the mind.

The statement stressed that the right to study and think freely, to discuss and debate, challenge and interrogate the assumptions and prescriptions of ideas even from the extreme ends of the ideological spectrum, must be unhampered by such insidious tags and labels as “red,” “communist,” or “terrorist.”

Academic freedom is the freedom of an academic institution through its faculty, researchers and students to search for the truth, and to pursue knowledge, wherever it may lead without unreasonable interference or restriction from the state, church or public pressure.

All educational institutions must be maintained as safe havens for civilized and intelligent discourse of all beliefs and forms of democratic expression, where students and teachers can discuss freely without fear of censorship or retaliation.

The university has taught us the vision of service to the people.

The campus molded us to fight for the causes we believe in, trained us for the skills we need to communicate ideas and rally others to effect changes in society.

However, UP doesn’t control the lives of its students outside the campus. It does have a say on its curriculum, and the faculty that implements it, and to this extent, it controls their education. But not a step farther.

What the students choose to do with their education, for ill or good, is entirely up to them.

Any form or semblance of militarization must be rejected on campuses since they have a chilling effect deleterious to academic freedom that would cause people to hesitate to exercise a legitimate right for fear of legal repercussions.

The unbridled entry of the police and other military forces in the university would instill fear and curtail freedom, therefore threatening to destroy the very essence of a university.

Without academic freedom, UP would lose its meaning and purpose.

Kule is the monicker of Philippine Collegian, the official student publication of UP Diliman.

Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail [email protected], or call 0917-5025808 or 0908-8665786.

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