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‘Hindi mali ang pakikibaka’: UPLB students push to keep campus a safe haven after alarming police presence in Brgy. Batong Malake, Los Baños

Meanwhile, talks on campus security reach new heights as constituents call to keep UPLB a ‘safe haven.’

Last April 21 saw UPLB students alarmed by the sudden presence of police in Brgy. Batong Malake, Los Baños, Laguna. This was at the height of several state-sponsored attacks on activists and government critics.

“[The police’s presence] escalates the fear, anxiety, and uncertainty of vocal student leaders on what the State can do to them anytime,” UPLB University Student Council (USC) Chairperson Siegfred Severino told the Perspective in a Facebook interview, explaining that the police seen in the vicinity were uniformed.

Severino noted that such sightings make university constituents feel unsafe and threatened, “mak[ing] us feel vulnerable [to] attacks against our democratic rights.”

Severino’s worries came to pass last April 19, when photos of UPLB students, student leaders, and alumni were taken by Facebook user “Andie Luces,” who then branded them as being affiliated with terrorist fronts. Those tagged were said to be members of progressive youth group Anakbayan and university-based party alliance Samahan ng Kabataan para sa Bayan (SAKBAYAN) (though Luces mistakenly identified SAKBAYAN as “Samahan ng Kabataang Makabayan”).

This was similar to a case involving graduation portraits and quotes of seven UP alumni across the system being appropriated by a state propaganda page late January (READ: 7 UP alums’ Sablay pics, quotes stolen by state propagandists).

Heightened police presence in Brgy. Batong Malake, Los Baños, Laguna last April 21 alarmed students residing in UPLB campus and in the said barangay. Photo by Charmaine Maranan

The matter of police presence was also discussed in the latest First Day Rage protest, when a police car was spotted entering the UPLB campus while students protested in Carabao Park.

Muling iginigiit ng Konseho ng mga Mag-aaral ng UPLB ang layang akademiko at demokratikong karapatang mag-organisa ng lahat ng aming mga mag-aaral. Naniniwala rin kaming hindi mali ang makibaka para sa isang demokratikong edukasyon, at lalong hindi mali makiisa ang UPLB sa mga panawagan ng malawak na hanay ng sambayanang api,” UPLB USC wrote in their Facebook post, further reminding all constituents to be vigilant of and stand against such attacks.

Severino also recalled the Bloody Sunday incident, formally called “COPLAN ASVAL,” last March 7 as another factor that added further fear among students, as it left nine progressives dead and six others arrested (READ: 9 patay, 6 arestado matapos ang ‘Bloody Sunday’ sa Timog Katagalugan).

“After the #BloodySunday incident that shocked the region, and the continued intervention with community pantries, [heightened police presence near UPLB] is deeply concerning,” Severino wrote in a separate Facebook post, adding in the interview that police presence adds to the anxiety of students staying in Los Baños.

As police mobiles and military trucks were frequently seen around the campus during mobilizations, Youth Advocates for Peace with Justice (YAPJUST) requested a public dialogue with the UPLB administration last March 5 to discuss matters such as campus peace and safety.

In the said dialogue, the administration assured that they will inform the Academic Union and USC such that there will be any authorized military or police entry.

“VCCA [Vice Chancellor for Community Affairs] Robert Cereno personally promised that he’ll be in close contact with every concerned sector in case there’s a military or police activity within our campus,” YAPJUST spokesperson John Peter Angelo Garcia said in an interview with the Perspective.

Garcia, quoting Cereno in a Facebook message to the publication, said that it was “natural” to deploy trainees in Batong Malake due to its large population. After student leaders’ reiterated the safety concerns of the students, Cereno assured that their office will look further into the issue.

UPLB as a ‘safe haven’

UP constituents’ safety became a hot topic after the recent abrogation of the UP-DND Accord – an agreement between the university and the Department of National Defense (DND) that restricts Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) from entering UP campus premises and/or conducting operations without prior permission from the schools’ authority (READ: UP strikes back against Accord’s ‘termination’).

As the UP-DND Accord protects UP constituents’ democratic rights, Severino noted that students must continue to voice out for the upholding of the said accord.

Sa UP-DND Accord, [nariyan] pa rin yung tindig natin na dapat ay i-uphold ito, and we can see na despite their growing presence outside UPLB, at the very least, hindi sila directly nagco-conduct ng activities within UPLB Grounds,” he said, worrying that it might only be a matter of time before the police “make [a] move inside the campus”.

Last March 29, the University Council (UC), the highest policy-making body of the campus, approved a resolution that ensures that “UPLB will remain a safe haven for freedom, human rights, critical thinking, and public service.”

Part of its resolutions also include support to the review and negotiation of the UP-DND Accord; support for academic freedom, human rights, and civil liberties; and the creation of a committee that will tackle national issues.

In a Facebook post, YAPJUST said that constituents have become more vulnerable to threats and attacks against human rights, reiterating the importance of the resolution.

“The alliance believes that the resolution’s implementation has become even more urgent due to the attacks against our constituents and the constantly increasing police presence around Brgy. Batong Malake. It is only just for the UPLB administration to recognize this urgency as well,” YAPJUST wrote.

In a meeting today, April 29, it was resolved in a discussion on the UPLB Safe Haven Resolution that the USC and YAPJUST will be the student representatives for the multisectoral consultative body that will work with the UC Committee on National Issues.

“The UC Committee on National Issues and its multisectoral consultative body are now the ones primarily responsible for implementing the UPLB Safe Haven Resolution,” Garcia said, clarifying that they “will no longer call it a TWG.”

Delving more into students’ security concerns, Garcia added that they are already working on the “terms of reference” that would define the UC Committee’s course of action.

“While we’re still completing the UC Committee and the consultative body, we’ll ensure that the protocols currently in place will address UPLB constituents’ security concerns,” he said.

In relation to this, Garcia also said that they would release a Student Incident Reporting System through email, where UPLB students can report incidents concerning threats to security, such as red-tagging cases.

Students who wish to report any case that they may deem as dangerous to their security may fill-up a Student Incident Reporting System form here. [P]

[P] File Photo by Dianne Sanchez

11 comments on “‘Hindi mali ang pakikibaka’: UPLB students push to keep campus a safe haven after alarming police presence in Brgy. Batong Malake, Los Baños

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