Resisting oppression. Edifying science. Defying the current.

The flashpoint of burning down academic freedom

[UPDATED] Ending the UP-DND accord led to more intense red-tagging and harassment. It’s time to resist it.
Cartoon by Becca Dela Flor

The Department of National Defense (DND) unilaterally cancelled on Jan. 15 a 1989 accord with the University of the Philippines (UP). For over 30 years, it prevented state forces from operating inside the campus without university permission.

Terminating the UP-DND accord has become a flashpoint of intensified red-tagging and harassment based on false and baseless accusations. Eighteen universities in the country and four colleges of UP Diliman were tagged as hotbeds for recruitment of New People’s Army members. More schools were red-tagged later on as 38 schools were mentioned as targets for radicalization and recruitment of leftist groups.

This was no longer new for some universities that have been linked to the “Red October” ouster plot by now-vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, Jr. in 2018. To think that students from those universities have to bear the perils of being blatantly red-tagged for almost two years and counting is all worth the exasperation and indignation. 

State forces seized this opportunity to spread out flames of terror within the UP community. In a Jan. 23 report, police were spotted in a residential area inside UP Diliman asking about student activity. On Jan. 20, military trucks and personnel visited UP Arboretum to inspect their “urban gardening project”, which the Barangay UP Campus deemed as “invasive” and inaccurate.

The scale of this heightened pursuit against the communist insurgency has left students in danger and utter agitation on social media, not to mention the fear it has caused for some.

Despite academic freedom defined as a democratic right enshrined in the 1987 Constitution, it is ironic that state forces use the law to stifle dissent among student activists. This creates a chilling effect: a scenario where the government tramples on basic human rights by implementing laws that threaten legal action.  

For instance, the Anti-Terrorism Act signed last June 2020 allows a special task force to order the warrantless arrest of persons they determine to have a “probable cause” of committing terrorism for up to 24 days. This poses a serious threat to leftist sectoral and university organizations which the military has continuously called as “communist fronts” such as the League of Filipino Students, Anakbayan, and GABRIELA, among others.

It is even scarier to think that despite the UP-DND accord’s guarantee to avoid arrests within campus grounds, the Cebu police exercised excessive force in capturing students who were peacefully protesting within the vicinity of UP Visayas. 

In retrospect, these events have been set up to serve as a fuel for the state’s funded arsonists to stage a powerful explosion to burn down dissent en masse by turning academic freedom into ashes. It is due time to douse this threat by staging a collective resistance.

We must remain adamant in our calls on condemning state intimidation and infringement of our liberties because academic freedom is pivotal to our democracy. It gives students and teachers “the freedom to speak, to study, to teach, and even the freedom to disagree.” Exercising this right allows people to criticize and oppose government policies they see as oppressive. 

After all, this is not just a fight for the present. This fight also defends the right of upcoming students to enjoy academic freedom that helps them grow into critical minds that will shape our society. 

Academic freedom is about to be razed down by a fascist government that aims to spread propaganda and lies to the public like wildfire. It is our obligation not just as students but as citizens to resist the weaponization of the law to maintain the status quo: injustice, fascism, and inhumanity. 

Lest we forget: When tyranny becomes law, resistance becomes duty.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Anti-Terrorism Act allows a special task force to order warrantless arrests of people they deem to have a “probable cause” to commit terrorism for up to 24 days, not three days as originally reported. We regret the error.

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