CHR asks: Is gov’t contemplating suppression of civil, political rights in UP?
MANILA, Philippines — With the unilateral abrogation of the 1989 accord between the University of the Philippines (UP) and the Department of National Defense (DND), the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said Wednesday it is now legitimate to ask if the government is considering the suppression of civil and political rights within the premier university.
In a statement, the CHR said it is “alarmed” with the scrapping of the accord, which bans security forces from entering UP campuses nationwide without prior permission.
“Although some quarters may deem it alarmist, it is now legitimate to ask if the government, through the military (not police), is contemplating the suppression of civil and political rights, including academic freedom, within the university. Otherwise, why threaten the university with the symbolic act of repudiating the said Accord?” the CHR said.
The commission also emphasized that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) mandate is different from that of the Philippine National Police (PNP), whose responsibility is to preserve peace and order.
“The DND, with whom UP entered into the subject agreement, is in charge of the Armed Forces, whose mandate is different from that of the PNP. The primary concern of DND is to secure the State from external and internal threats. Maintaining peace and order is within the ambit of the Philippine National Police,” the CHR said.
The UP-DND agreement is, for the CHR, more than an agreement prohibiting the entry of state forces into UP campuses. “Seen from a history of abuse of power since the dictatorship, it serves as an assurance that the freedom to express dissent, to protest, and the exercise of academic freedom will be respected by the government, particularly by the police and military.”
It noted that the agreement has helped shield the university’s students, faculty, and workers from “arbitrary, capricious repression” of protected rights for more than three decades.
“However, at this time, when human rights violations continue to abound, the unilateral termination of DND of the said Accord with UP does nothing more than cast further doubts on its intent and aggravates the climate of distrust towards the government,” the CHR said.
In a letter to UP President Danilo Concepcion, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the DND had abrogated the agreement between then UP President Jose Abueva and then-Defense Secretary Fidel Ramos. He claimed the accord was being used by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) as a “shield” for their recruitment.
In a statement on Tuesday, Lorenzana defended this move and said the agreement was “obsolete” and that the UP “has become a safe haven for enemies of the state.”
But for the CHR, the DND “should have appealed to good judgment in expressing concerns to UP and finding ways to move forward, instead of immediately abrogating the Accord, in pursuit of the best interest of all.”
The commission said: “There is no justification for the government to stifle the legitimate exercise of rights guaranteed under the constitution, including that of academic freedom within universities. And there is no need for any accord on this.”
“More than anything, the agreement between UP and the DND underscored the recognition by the two institutions that the expression of intellectual dissent is part of academic freedom which ought [to] be respected by government,” it added.
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