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Agreement based on distrust





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The debate over the abrogation of the University of the Philippines (UP)-Department of National Defense (DND) accord signed in 1989 is one that will reach the ends of the earth. The arguments of both sides are just two incongruent lines that refuse to meet.

I find this predicament peculiar as both academic freedom and the state’s police powers are protected by the same Constitution. How then can a memorandum of agreement on prohibiting the entry of military and police into any UP campus without prior notification to university officials set these two sides so far apart?

Based on the raging debates I’ve read, the bottom-line issue here is trust or, perhaps more accurately, the lack of it.

We should remember that when this agreement was made, the premise of distrust in the uniformed services was so deep and close to the prior 20 years of Martial Law marked by warrantless arrests, abductions, torture, rape, and even murder of UP students, faculty, and employees.

UP is a brave and courageous institution known for sticking it out against tyranny and dictatorship at their peak in the name of democracy. To this day, activists whose hearts and minds stayed free are remembered for their slogans: “Makibaka! Huwag matakot!” “Kung ‘di ka kikilos, sinong kikilos?” and down to the winning stretch with “#Never again!” to ML (that’s Martial Law, not Mobile Legends).

Those days embody the beautiful triumph of free minds shared by the whole nation in order to launch a successful People Power in EDSA in 1986 – a bloodless revolution that taught the world about human rights and dignity. How we as a people moved forward from that, however, is a different story.

As I had wished way back then, I hope that by now we (both civilian and military) have learned our lessons from those experiences and ushered in a new generation – 35 years later – that recognizes, exercises, upholds, respects, and enjoys those freedoms once curtailed.

If we have so evolved and stayed free as a people from that dark part of our history, hasn’t the narrative changed since then? Are we still chained in fear when a policeman stands at the corner of our street or a six-by-six military truck of troops drives by? I want to pose that question to the young generation of Filipinos – not the old farts like me who have seen the worst of the Marcos regime and haven’t quite gotten over it. Is there still distrust in the police and military at a level so high that by merely entering campus premises without permission, academic freedoms, political choices, and activism are set in peril?

I’m not stating that the DND’s unilateral abrogation of the agreement with UP was the right thing to do. But I am saddened if the premise for drafting the 1989 accord remains true till now because it is undoubtedly based on the premise that the military and police – and the entire government, for that matter – cannot stand these freedoms on campus. Therefore, if this should be the prevailing sentiment — then wouldn’t this be true and necessary for all campuses: DLSU, Ateneo, UST, FEU, UE, and every other academic institution of higher learning?

In a way, I can imagine myself in a soldier’s uniform – called to duty to fight terrorists, quell violent sieges, build roads and bridges, be the rescue in times of calamity, the bringer of relief to evacuees, the sick, and the homeless. Yet, in the eyes of the UP campus, we are still treated as a threat to the freedoms we all love and, for our part, are sworn to protect. So, is it right to punish the sons for the sins of their fathers?

I guess not. But if the sons are the likes of Lieutenant-General Antonio Parlade Jr., who erroneously (and repeatedly) red-tag people – the very same people who paid for his military education through taxes – which his institution, the AFP, later retracted and forced the humble Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to apologize, then I guess it is. Sadly, Parlade is the poster boy for distrust of the military.

Perhaps, a democratic solution would be to bring this MOA to Congress in the form of a bill. Suppose it truly embodies our nation’s academic freedoms. In that case, it should be valid for all campuses in the country and institute the requirement for permission from all campus administrations when the police or military exercises the police powers of the state. If it is not passed by Congress and enacted into law, then maybe this IS a different time.

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