Yesterday, the University of the Philippines (UP) System received a notice from the Department of National Defense (DND), unilaterally abrogating the 1989 UP-DND Accord. This agreement laid down the guidelines on military and police operations inside the University, which aimed to promote UP’s institutional autonomy and to provide a safe ground for its constituents to freely exercise academic freedom, independent political analysis, and responsible social critique – Constitutionally enshrined rights. The Accord ensures the non-interference by members of military and police with the peaceful expressions of dissent and protest actions by members of the UP community in their campuses, and protect them from any threats of illegal arrest or detention.
We regard the agreement a sacred document that illustrates the mutual understanding, cooperation and respect between the University and the Government in recognizing and championing the mandate of UP as a national university with the “right and responsibility to exercise academic freedom… as community of scholars dedicated for the search of truth and knowledge… with inherent basic public service obligations” (RA 9500) to find solutions to social ills and promote accountable governance ,which are crucial to our democracy. Such mandate has what made UP a top of its class which has gained for the institution international recognition. Articulations by UP constituents of what they perceive as social ills, are manifestations that Filipinos’ freedom of expression is very much alive, and we in the UP community are still able to exercise academic freedom as bastions of a democratic nation.
This action by the DND, without prior consultation with the University, is deeply concerning to say the least. Especially for us here in UP Cebu, as it came at a time, when our students and faculty members have been subjected to direct intimidation and threats, including red-tagging. On 5 June 2020, we witnessed the violent dispersal of our students who were peacefully demonstrating against the Anti- Terrorism Act by police and state agents, with some members in civilian clothing, who encroached on our campus grounds. We strongly condemned such acts of transgression and bullying. Very recently, our own member of the faculty, Assistant Professor Regletto Aldrich Imbong of the College of Social Sciences reported to us in the administration, of alarming text messages he received, containing threats against his life and liberty, along with other members of civil society, known for their active citizen engagements. Asst. Prof. Imbong is an academic scholar of good standing. He is an excellent and well- published faculty who is highly respected by his students and colleagues in the scientific community for his intellectual rigor and research competence. He is active not only in his academic engagements but also in his public service and extension work, especially as the President of UP Cebu All UP Academic Employees Union (AUPAEU). We know him to be respectful and passionate, but rational about his fight for social justice, and in highlighting the conditions of marginalized sectors especially our farmers, fisherfolks and urban poor. His active engagements to help elevate social ills, is inherent in his basic task as a UP constituent, in fact as a good and responsible Filipino citizen. This does not make him an insurgent or a terrorist. We strongly condemn any and all forms of baseless accusations and red-tagging among our constituents, faculty and students alike. They deserve our respect, not harassment.
The 1989 UP-DND Accord provides a safeguard for our constituents from such abuse of authority, and for promoting our rule of law. Thus, with the rest of the UP community, we in UP Cebu will staunchly defend our basic rights and will stand our ground.
We urge our national government and the top officials of the DND to rethink and revoke such cancellation of the accord, as we reiterate the call of the UP President for open dialogue and discussion, on how we can genuinely advance the best interests of our students and our nation.
ATTY. LIZA D. CORRO