Editorial

The cost of freedom

On January 15, Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana sent a letter to UP President Danilo Concepcion notifying him of a unilateral termination of the UP-DND Accord, an agreement settled between the university and state forces prohibiting the presence of police and military in campus grounds unless allowed by the admin or in hot pursuit. In response, Concepcion issued a statement saying that the termination was “unnecessary” and “unwarranted”, followed by the idea that the accord was crafted in an atmosphere of “mutual respect” between the two parties.

But the history of the accord reveals that it was much more than that.

Discussions of an accord arose in the early 80s — a time when countless activists were being persecuted by abusive government forces, not far apart from the experiences today. Activists fell victim to thousands of human rights violations by state forces who were empowered by Marcos’ martial law. Such are the likes of Rizalina Ilagan, Leticia Pascual-Ladlad, and Cristina Catalla – all UPLB students who became desaparecidos during the time of martial law.

The government had its eyes red on the UP community, who was one of those at the forefront of anti-Marcos protests of the First Quarter Storm. Led mostly by students, Marcos then ordered for a nationwide shutdown of student councils and campus publications in an attempt to weaken organizing efforts, even coming as far as intruding the Diliman campus in 1971, which left 60 people injured. The contradictions between student activists and the state eventually led to a 1982 accord between the League of Filipino Students (LFS) and then-DND Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile, but it wasn’t until 1989 that the university had a UP-DND accord of its own.

But what led to the creation of the UP-DND accord? According to Renato Reyes, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) secretary general, and Danilo Arao, UP professor and former Collegian writer, members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) infiltrated the UP Diliman campus on June 1989 to arrest Donato Continente, a writer of the Philippine Collegian, at Vinzons Hall. The Collegian, much like the Perspective, is a publication known for its critical stances against the government — militantly covering the unlawful acts of impunity done by the military and constabulary in the country. Continente was tortured and forced by state forces to admit to the murder of US Colonel James Rowe and wasn’t freed until 14 years later.

The arrest and torture of Continente exposed the conditions of the country’s sociopolitical situation. Even in post-Marcos regimes, dissenters and critics are still considered enemies of the state. This situation of human rights violations and political persecution further deteriorated one administration after another, revealing that no matter who is in power, for as long as the system remains the same, fascism will find its way to silence and exploit the people.

And now, we are under Duterte’s de facto martial law. Through his militaristic approach to the pandemic, democratic spaces have shrunk and activism is seen by the state as terrorism. This regime is proactively seeking ways to silence dissent in any form it can — from illegal arrests, violent dispersals, and weaponization of the law against critics. Activists have then seeked refuge in the historical UP campuses to register their calls due to heightened police and military presence in areas outside. And now that the accord has been terminated, state forces now wish to infiltrate our sanctuary of democracy once again in a desperate attempt to target protesters trying to fight back through peaceful demonstrations.

We should look back on the history of the accord and be reminded of the conditions of which it was implemented – the heightened unrest of the UP community brought upon by worsening poverty, negligence, and state violence. The document was signed at the cost of the blood and sweat of student activists who longed for a better society. Lives were sacrificed, many were hurt, and futures were compromised in the anti-dictatorship struggle of the people.

With daily cases of state abuse, of the government neglecting the people’s needs, of people being pushed to the margins of society, are we not in the same situation as before? Does it not warrant the same amount of resistance as the UP community did in the 80s?

The only difference is that another regime is in charge.

The government can push, but UP will shove. Let us give justice to those who fought for the safety of the university, academic freedom, and democracy – even if it entails the same expense. [P]

Graphics by Jermaine Valerio

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