Military units, men in uniform join forces on social media to back termination of deal with UP
MANILA, Philippines—Social media pages of Philippine military units and military men appear to be coming together in support of the Department of National Defense’s (DND) unilateral termination of an agreement with University of the Philippines (UP) barring the uncoordinated entry of policemen or soldiers on UP campuses.
Since Thursday (Jan. 21), a Facebook post of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, which highlights the reasons for the termination of the deal, is being shared by a number of military men and several military units.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and its three service branches—Philippine Army, Philippine Navy and Philippine Air Force—have also released statements supporting the decision. All are also widely shared in the military community.
Inquirer.net learned from a number of military officers that military units and men were directed to like and share the social media posts disseminated by the AFP leadership. The AFP has yet to respond to requests for comment.
The defense department drew flak after it ended the 1989 agreement with UP, which was meant to prevent police and military from targeting student and teacher activists for their political beliefs.
Human rights groups and activists raised fears that the termination of the agreement would stifle academic freedom and freedom of expression in UP, considered as a bastion of activism.
Speaking to Inquirer.net on the condition of anonymity, two retired Army generals who were highly experienced in cultivating partnerships with the civilian sector, disagreed with the DND move, saying it squandered efforts to gain the trust of stakeholders through the years.
The DND could have reached out first to the UP officials through a dialogue before making the decision, to avoid alienating the people they were supposed to work together with, said one of the retired generals.
“We wouldn’t have any gains if there are no stakeholders and people who work with us,” said the source. “It could take some time to gain the trust of the UP community again,” he said.
The ex-general also pointed out that the Philippine military is facing “bigger problems” than insurgency that it should set its eyes on.
“To project them as a very strong threat, that’s where I disagree. They’re not that strong so why really bother?” he said.
“Why make the entire armed forces engage? What’s happening is the whole AFP is engaging a group which they say is only 3,000-strong,” the retired officer said, referring to the New People’s Army.
The retired Army general said that the communist insurgency should now be a law enforcement concern.
“The reason our country is not progressing is because the government wants to get busy on the insurgency,” he said. “We should shift to modernization and capacity enhancement,” he said.
Another retired Army general said that the supposed communist recruitment on UP campuses did not require a purely military solution.
The military is on a self-imposed deadline to end the decades-long communist insurgency by 2022, or the year President Rodrigo Duterte bows out of office.
The DND’s sudden move outraged and shocked the UP community, including its alumni and politicians.
“Many don’t understand that the accord is what gives our students and teachers freedom to be creative and vigorous because they know nobody will censor their works or [surveil] them … even if what they do goes against state ideology,” UP President Danilo Concepcion said in a rally early this week. “That is what academic freedom means.”
In a separate response to Lorenzana, the UP official said that the termination of the accord was “totally unnecessary and unwarranted.”
“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 protection and courtesies afforded by the agreement,” Concepcion said.
At a press briefing early this week, Lorenzana allayed concerns that the abrogation of the agreement would interfere with UP’s academic freedom.
“Student activists can still do anything they want concerning freedom of speech and expression of academic freedom, as long as it’s within the bounds of what’s legal in the national law,” he said.
Lorenzana also expressed willingness to hold a dialogue with UP officials if they could explain the deaths of students along with NPA rebels in clashes with the military.
He also questioned why UP was the only school that enjoys such a treatment.
“Only UP has this kind of agreement. Why? What makes UP so special to have this kind of treatment?” he said.
“It should be equal to all schools. Let’s be fair to everybody here,” he went on.
Lorenzana said he wanted to end the deal because communist rebels were using it as “cover” to recruit students.
“Please understand that we have nothing against UP. This is not an attack against UP or the alumni. We just want to clean up UP of bad elements inside it,” he said.
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