by Prof. Michael T. Tiu Jr.
“The worry that the unilateral abrogation would imperil academic freedom and constitutional rights is not unfounded.”
February 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of what we now remember as the “Diliman Commune” — a period spanning the first nine days of February 1971 when students of the University of the Philippines took control of UP Diliman by barricading its entry points and fighting off attempts by the military and police officers to gain access to the campus. It happened during a period of unrest, particularly among the students, academics, and unions of jeepney drivers propelled by the explosion of protests in the 1970’s First Quarter Storm. The Diliman Commune was a picture of resistance with its series of standoffs between students and law enforcement officers who forcibly broke up human barricades. It was an event that displayed a commitment to the sanctity of the national university as a place of refuge for those who are part of that learning community and their hard-fought freedoms.
Five decades after, a new standoff is brewing. In a letter dated January 15, 2021, the Department of National Defense, through Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, notified UP President Danilo Concepcion that it was unilaterally terminating the 1989 UP-DND Accord — the agreement that prohibits the military and law enforcement officers from entering UP campuses without justification and prior notification. The mass resistance of the UP community — its officials, faculty, students, and staff — is reminiscent of the Diliman Commune and is in keeping with the character of the community. The calls to reverse the unilateral abrogation were firm and swift, the resistance unequivocal.
The 1989 UP-DND Accord is not the first record of an agreement between the country’s defense department and UP students to keep law enforcement officers out of UP Campuses. The earlier Soto-Enrile Agreement set out, in writing, the commitment of then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile to “pull out police detachments” inside campuses and to allow entry only when (a) requested by university officials or, (b) when a crime is taking place inside the campus. Enrile laid out these commitments in an October 1981 letter to Sonia Soto, among other student leaders, who was then the Chairperson of the League of Filipino Students. Eight years later, these same commitments were set out with clarity and specificity in the 1989 UP-DND Accord signed by then DND Secretary Fidel V. Ramos and UP President Jose Abueva. Abueva describes the accord as a reflection of the “deep understanding between [him and Ramos] about the inalienable rights to freedom, democracy, justice and peace” and was concluded “for the good of UP” and the rights of the members of the community. It is clear, even from the preamble of the accord that the primary concern was the protection of academic freedom and institutional autonomy of UP.
Steeped in the tradition of democratic discourse and protest, the UP community is suspicious of and opposed to any form of militarization or presence of law enforcement in its campuses, considering a history of targeting students and academics for their political beliefs, which swelled during the years of the dictatorship. The military, on the other hand, is constantly preoccupied by what it considers sources of threats to national security. This ever present tension between these two institutions and the attempts to manage these tensions led to the signing of the accord on June 30, 1989. The conclusion of the accord was hastened by the events in the latter half of June 1989 when Donato Continente — a messenger of the UP Collegian — was abducted inside the UP Diliman campus by men from the Criminal Investigation Service of the police for Continente’s alleged involvement in the killing of US Army Officer Col. James Rowe.
The Diliman Commune was an event that displayed a commitment to the sanctity of the national university as a place of refuge for those who are part of that learning community and their hard-fought freedoms.
The 1989 UP-DND Accord sets out, as its core element, the prohibition of any member of the AFP, the then-Police Constabulary – Integrated National Police (now the PNP), and the CAFGU (Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit, also a unit of the AFP) from entering any UP campus for reasons outside of the exceptional circumstances enumerated in the accord: in cases of hot pursuit (a rule that allows an officer to make a warrantless arrest if he has probable cause based on personal knowledge that the person to be arrested has just committed a crime), similar occasions of emergency, and ordinary transit (like passing through a part of a UP campus without carrying out law enforcement duties). Should the military or law enforcement officers intend “to conduct any military or police operations in any of the UP Campuses,” they must transmit prior notification to the UP President, or the Chancellor of the constituent university, or the Dean of the regional unit concerned.
Mutual respect and cooperation were the guiding principles in Abueva’s signing of the 1989 accord. Provisions direct UP officials to extend the necessary assistance to law enforcers in order to enforce the law within UP premises, and vice versa. The military or police can provide assistance whenever UP officials, in order to maintain security, peace and order within UP premises, inform them in writing of the necessity for such assistance.
In his letter, Sec. Lorenzana cited the recruitment of UP students to the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing: the National People’s Army as a reason for termination. He explained that the accord is being used to shield the CPP/NPA and to bar the military from conducting operations against them. However, there is no insurmountable impediment to the investigation of threats to national security under the framework of the accord. Assuming that its operations are directed against illegal activities, the accord itself says that the military can notify and cooperate with UP officials should they wish to enter any UP campus.
The worry that the unilateral abrogation would imperil academic freedom and constitutional rights is not unfounded. With its termination comes the shunning of the commitment in the accord that law enforcers shall “not interfere with peaceful protest actions by UP constituents within UP premises.” Protest in UP is a way of life, and with the mounting and sustained resistance against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 (a law that law enforcers have asked for), there is a real threat of branding dissent as subversion.
More alarmingly, the abrogation also means the removal of mechanisms like speedy and prior notice to UP officials and the immediate assistance of counsel in cases of arrests or detention of any member of the UP community — mechanisms that provide additional protection to the constitutional rights of UP’s students, officials, faculty, and staff. This unilateral termination signifies an intention to enter the space to do exactly what the accord should have protected community members against.
With questions raised on the intention, necessity, and legal possibility of the unilateral abrogation, it is to be expected that the spirit of the Diliman Commune has been rekindled. It is not in UP’s character to stand down. Will the military yield?