UP community unites in defending academic freedom

Activits hold a protest action against the uniliateral termination of an agreement prohibiting entry of state security forces without prior notification to the UP administration. (Photo by Carlo Manalansan / Bulatlat)

“I must express our grave concern over this abrogation, as it is totally unnecessary and unwarranted, and may result in worsening rather than improving relations between our institutions, and detract from our common desire for peace, justice, and freedom in our society.” — UP President Danilo L. Concepcion

Updated 4:31 p.m., January 19, 2021


MANILA – University of the Philippines top officials, faculty members and students condemned the Department of National Defense’s unilateral termination of 1989 UP-DND Accord, saying the move infringes on academic freedom.

In a protest action today, Jan. 19, at the Quezon Hall of UP Diliman, UP President Danilo L. Concepcion said Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s letter was “a nightmare that interrupted his peaceful sleep.”

In a letter dated Jan. 15, 2021, Lorenzana informed Concepcion of the DND’s decision to terminate the agreement, which prohibits state security forces from entering UP campuses without prior notification to the university administration.

Concepcion said the DND’s action infringes on the academic freedom guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution.

“Kung UP ay tatanggalan ng academic freedom sa anumang paraan, ang UP ay mawawalan ng saysay at kabuhuluhan,” (If academic freedom is taken away from UP in whatever means, UP would lose its essence and meaning) Concepcion said.

In his response to Lorenzana, the UP president said, “I must express our grave concern over this abrogation, as it is totally unnecessary and unwarranted, and may result in worsening rather than improving relations between our institutions, and detract from our common desire for peace, justice, and freedom in our society.”

Concepcion lamented that DND abrogated the said agreement unilaterally, without the prior consultation with UP.

“Instead of instilling confidence in our police and military, your decision can only sow more confusion and mistrust, given that you have not specified what it is that you exactly aim to do or put in place in lieu of the protections and courtesies afforded by the agreement,” the letter read.

Concepcion maintained that the accord is not meant to evade or weaken the law, “but to protect the climate of academic freedom—guaranteed by the Constitution—that makes intellectual inquiry and human and social advancement possible.”

“We want to maintain UP as a safe haven for all beliefs and forms of democratic expression. In that, all the signatories to the agreement believed and bound themselves to uphold,” Concepcion said.

The UP president urged Lorenzana to reconsider and revoke the abrogation.

“Our police and military authorities should have no fear of academic freedom,” Concepcion added, saying that while UP has bred rebels and nonconformists, it has also produced presidents, senators, congressmen, and business, civic, and even military leaders.

Concepcion added that UP’s excellence is the result of its exercise of academic freedom, citing that UP ranks 65th among the 489 universities in Asia according to the Times Higher Education Asia University Rankings.

In his speech, UP Diliman Chancellor Fidel Nemenzo also argued that the DND’s move denies UP its right to academic freedom. “Stopping the agreement strikes a dangerous blow to academic freedom because it sends the message that intellectual and cultural inquiry which are sacred in our university has limits,” he said.

“If the DND says as it does that it will neither post military or police inside UP campuses nor suppress academic freedom and freedom of expression, why abrogate the MOA?” Nemenzo asked, referring to the accord signed on June 30, 1989.

In separate statements, University Student Council and college student councils condemned what they call as militarization of UP campuses.

Speaking during the protest action, UP Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Loujaye Sonido called on authorities to leave their students in peace. “They will stand their ground on the right side of history and they will be remembered for their strength and vigilance, for their relentless service to the people. Despite redtagging. Despite political persecution. Despite big bullies in government picking on them and pointing their guns at them, threatening the future, of justice and freedom, that they are fighting to achieve,” she said.

“We have no guns, no firepower, but our weapon is always our unity and our solidarity. Our weapon is our criticism, our insolence, our daring, our defiance,” Sonido said. “History will remember that in the line of fire, UP stood its ground. It will not back down.”

Historical victory

Nemenzo also pointed out that the UP-DND Accord was a democratic response to the suppression of UP and all freedoms during Martial Law.

The accord, he said, respects each other’s mandate – the promotion of academic freedom on one hand and law enforcement on the other hand.

CONTEND-UP Chairperson Gerardo Lanuza exhorts students to uphold academic freedom at all costs. (Photo by Carlo Manalansan / Bulatlat)
Congress of Teachers/Educators for Nationalism and Democracy (CONTEND)-UP Chairperson Gerardo Lanuza said that Lorenzana is worse than Juan Ponce Enrile and Fidel Ramos who both signed agreements with UP officials.

Ramos, then defense chief, signed the UP-DND Accord with then UP President Jose Abueva while Enrile, then defense minister, signed the 1982 Soto-Enrile Accord, which was also a product of the democratic reform movement in the 1980s.

Nemenzo lamented that the abrogation came weeks before the 50th anniversary of the Diliman Commune in February 1971.

Nemenzo urged everyone to defend UP as it is a zone of free thought and of free expression.

Lani Abad of All UP Academic Employees Union said that UP served as a venue for protest actions especially during the pandemic, and provided sanctuary to politically persecuted groups and individuals.

“We resisted the Martial Law of Marcos. We will resist Duterte’s Martial Law,” Abad said. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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