Educators say CHED’s proposal to define academic freedom ‘laughable’
MANILA, Philippines — A week since the Department of National Defense (DND) unilaterally abrogated its 1989 accord with the University of the Philippines, state forces have doubled down on a crackdown on dissent, expanding targets for harassment and Red-tagging to other universities and city colleges.
But instead of coming to the schools’ defense, Prospero de Vera III, commissioner of the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd), said he would form a panel of education experts to define what academic freedom means and the role of security forces in it.
“The chair’s proposal is laughable: to tap specialists and look up ‘academic freedom’ in the dictionary [when] the principle itself is already enshrined in the Constitution,” said UP professor and art historian Ramon Guillermo.
“So many have been harassed and Red-tagged over the past years but this is only the first time we’ve heard from him,” echoed Dr. Melinda Flores, president of the UP Workers’ Alliance. “In a time of harassment and extrajudicial killings, why would [you] remove an accord that has protected [UP]?”
Since the accord that limited military presence on UP grounds was terminated on Jan. 15, UP has seen the Red-tagging of its students and faculty intensify.
While such attacks were not new, it has definitely shrunk UP’s democratic spaces, UP journalism professor Danilo Arao said.
“There is a clear connection between the abrogation of the accord and the Red-tagging spree against UP and other universities and colleges,” Flores said.
For the UP Diliman executive committee, academic freedom “allows the faculty, students, and staff to engage in intellectual debate, challenge ideas, and express one’s self without fear of being silenced,” it said in a statement on Tuesday.
On Monday, an opposition senator moved to declare all state universities and colleges (SUCs), including UP, as “freedom parks,” as outrage escalated over the abrupt termination of the 1989 pact that had kept military and police forces out of UP campuses for three decades.
In filing the proposed Academic Freedom Act of 2021, Sen. Francis Pangilinan sought to formalize SUCs as bastions of free speech and peaceable assembly by turning them into “freedom parks.”
“No permit, written or otherwise, shall be required by the national or local government for any person or persons to organize and hold a public assembly in SUCs. Uniformed personnel shall not interfere with peaceful protest action by SUC constituents within SUC premises,” the bill states. INQ