“Our call is to stop militarization, not only in the UP Mindanao campus but also in all other campuses all over the country.”
By DANIEL BOONE
ILOILO CITY — Student leaders of the University of the Philippines (UP) lambasted what they called “militarization” of the state university’s Mindanao campus, part of which is threatened to be converted into a military camp.
In a press conference co-organized by the student group National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) held in UP Visayas Iloilo City campus on July 7, student leaders joined the calls of UP Mindanao to end militarization in their campus, particularly, the expansion of a military training ground.
The student leaders feared even more intensified military presence in the campus, which not only violates the atmosphere of academic freedom, but also previous agreements between UP and other government agencies.
“Sa UP Mindanao, kapitbahay lang namin ang military camp. Minsan nagugulat na lang kami na may nagja-jogging na military men sa loob ng campus (UP Mindanao is located beside a military camp. Sometimes, we are surprised some military men are jogging inside our campus),” said Prince Harvey Arellano of the UP Mindanao USC.
The UP Mindanao campus is located in Mintal village, Tugbok District in Davao City, near Camp San Gabriel of the 11th Regional Community Defense Group Army Reserved Command.
On May 15, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) requested at least 20 hectares of land inside the 204-hectare UP Mindanao campus, to be used as training ground for the Reserved Officer Training Corps (ROTC).
Earlier in June, UP Mindanao student councils appealed to the UP administration and local officials to reject the request, which was formally filed by the 11th Regional Community Defense Group with the Davao City council.
A statement by the UP Mindanao University Student Council (USC) said the requested land will be converted into a military reservation which will be called “Camp Gov. Vicente Duterte,” after President Duterte’s late father, who was governor of then unified Davao province.
“Our call is to stop militarization, not only in the UP Mindanao campus but also in all other campuses all over the country,” said Romen Wabina, chairperson of UP Mindanao USC.
The Sotto-Enrile Accord
Under the 1989 tripartite agreement between UP, the Department of National Defense (DND), and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), also known as the Soto-Enrile Accord, military forces are barred from entering university premises, hence their presence in campuses like UP Mindanao raises grave concerns for students and some officials.
The original Soto-Enrile Accord was signed in 1982 by then student leader Sonia Soto and Defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile which bans military intervention in student activities on campus. The accord was updated in 1989 by an agreement between UP President Jose Abueva and then Secretary of National Defense Fidel V. Ramos.
Meanwhile, a UP Mindanao Chancellor emphasized in a dialogue with the student councils that because of UP’s autonomy, the use of its land area is not within jurisdiction of the city council, and the UP Board of Regents will have the final decision on the AFP’s request. The Chancellor also confirmed that her office has yet not received any such request.
Students reject mandatory ROTC
Student councils also raised their concerns over Duterte’s pronouncement to revive the mandatory ROTC, which was abolished in 2001 after the murder of a cadet who exposed the corruption in the system.
ROTC is one of the three major components of the National Service Training Program (NSTP), pursuant to the Republic Act 9163. According to the law, ROTC is “designed to provide military education and training to tertiary level students in order to motivate, train, organize, and mobilize them for national defense preparedness. ROTC technically prepares college students for AFP service.
The program was made optional and voluntary in 2002 after the murder of University of Sto. Tomas student Mark Welson Chua in 2001. In 2016, youth group Kabataan Partylist filed a bill to completely abolish ROTC in all tertiary schools, both private and public. Kabataan Partylist Rep. Sarah Elago cited physical and verbal abuses, bribery, extortion, and corruption as bases for filing the bill.
UP Mindanao USC also expressed how ROTC have been used to justify military presence in their campus. Amid Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao, the council continues to call to stop militarizing universities and campuses.