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Why Defend UP? SR Renee Co and Hon. Sarah Elago talk acad freedom, campus security

UP community, supporters once more call for the 1989 UP-DND Accord to be institutionalized.

“There is no point in relying on the DND [Department of National Defense] to rectify its error and participate in dialogues in good faith that it will listen to the unanimous clamor of the community,” UP Office of the Student Regent (OSR) said in their statement posted on Facebook. 

Strong denouncement and rejection against the DND riddled OSR’s statement last August 6. It came after DND Sec. Delfin Lorenzana declared that the department will no longer consider reinstating the unilaterally abrogated 1989 UP-DND Accord. Such puts matters in its finality and dismisses any dialogue between UP Administration.

In fact, DND Sec. Lorenzana even threatened that surveillance operations will persist all across the UP system. 

According to the OSR, DND made it clear that it will direct more intelligence and other military operations in UP as they are enabled by the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, in which will also intensify state crackdown on dissenters, human rights defenders, and other progressive individuals within the UP community by state forces. OSR worried that “the information will be used to red-tag UP students, faculty, staff, and alumni without basis or verification, vilifying the community and compromising its security.”

This latest development once more reopened interest in the lengthy discourse surrounding the 1989 UP-DND Accord. In a letter to UP President Danilo Conception, DND unilaterally terminated the Accord effective as of January 15, 2021. This abrogation enables state forces to enter and conduct operations on UP campuses without any consent nor prior notification (READ: UP-DND Accord is unilaterally ‘terminated.’ UP community strikes back with an indignation protest the next day).

In exclusive, separate interviews with the Perspective, Kabataan Partylist Representative Hon. Sarah Elago and SR Renee Co discusses the prevailing importance of the Accord.

Of one’s own Accord

The 1989 UP-DND Accord is a witness to the long history of student struggle for a safe space for their academic freedom along with their other liberties. There was the 1982 Soto-Enrile agreement penned by then-Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and student leader Sonia Soto from the League of Filipino Students. The agreement aimed to protect students from police and military presence inside the campuses.  

Co said, “It’s a testament to the success, and the wide clamor for the democratic rights [and] for Academic freedom.” Co explained that because of UP’s vulnerability from state attacks, demanding for accountability is not a sufficient solution, but rather UP should craft agreements, guidelines and protocols barring police and military forces to enter campuses and different units.

The 35th UP Student Regent Renee Co addresses the protesters in Quezon Hall, UP Diliman.
Photo by Sonya Mariella Castillo

“There is clear necessity that we see in having these and in its recognition of the large history behind these movements” Co added.

The Accord threads its origin from the agreement inked between former UP President Jose Abueva and then-Defense chief Fidel Ramos on June 30, 1989. The need for the protection of the UP community from intrusions of state forces was realized after the abduction incident of a Philippine Collegian staffer inside UP Diliman (UPD). In an explainer from Philippine Daily Inquirer, Prof. Danilo Arao, a UPD professor, journalist, and former staff of Philippine Collegian recounted the incident when the abducted staffer was subjected to “tortured and forced to confess” to the murder of an American soldier.

The Accord mandated state forces to give prior notification to the UP administration before entering and or conducting any police and military operations inside any UP campuses and constituent universities, ultimately barring any presence of state forces from entering the UP campuses without rationale.

The long history of these agreements together with the progressive posture of UP as a higher educational institution provide the need to preserve its inherent role in serving the people. It is axiomatic that the safeguards provided in the words and letters of the 1989 UP-DND Accord are walls, if not pillars, that ensure the protection of the academic freedom of the UP community, and its abrogation endangers the academic freedom to be open to any attacks from the fascist regime.

“The attacks [on] academic freedom means a weaker education to be provided to the Filipino people,” said Co. The OSR together with Defend UP Network said that they have recorded instances of subsequent attacks, active intimidation, and harassment throughout different units. Co said that these attacks on the students, faculty and staff of UP may lead to incidents of red-tagging, and a chilling effect on the UP community that has a “wider implications to how we exercise our freedom of expression.” Co added that “there is real danger in removing these accords and peace agreements, or these protections in general, with emboldened actions of police and military forces ever since the unilateral abrogation.”

Meanwhile, Elago said that the Accord is highly significant to the UP Community, explaining that “it’s a safeguard against the abuse of power and authority, especially of state agents. [And] that has been witnessed by [not only] history but at the present conditions, and the state of the exercise of democratic rights, in and out of the UP campus of its stakeholders.”

Uphold academic freedom

The current political climate in the country where progressive individuals and organizations are subject to the lethal counterinsurgency operations of the Duterte administration, necessitates the protection of students, faculty, and staff of UP from the machinery of state intrusion and impunity. This is to ensure that the liberties that are due to them are enjoyed and exercised without fear from intimidation and coercion. 

In her manifestation before the House Committee on Higher and Technical Education, Gabriela Women’s Partylist Rep. Arlene Brosas expressed, “Academic Freedom is the rationale of education and it cannot thrive under state police and military intervention. The state cannot say that they promote democracy while they push for the control and monopolization of ideas.”

Meanwhile, in a similar statement with OSR, the Defend UP Network calls on the members of the House of Representatives to expedite the passing of bills pertaining to the institutionalization of the 1989 UP-DND Accord by amending the UP Charter of 2008. 

“We call on the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate of the Philippines, especially alumni of the university, to pass progressive legislation that protects the constitutional rights to academic freedom and freedom of speech in all educational institutions, free from all forms of paramilitary and military harassment,” the network said.

Last June 2, the House Committee on Higher and Technical Education (CHTE) approved on its first reading of the bill that seeks to institutionalize the provisions of the 1989 UP-DND Accord by amending and adding the protections to the UP Charter of 2008 itself. SR Co said that legislation would be an ample tool to strengthen the protections of the UP Community from state intrusions.

“It’s probably one of the most important local issues of the University,” Co said.

Co sympathizes with the idea that it is high time that the protections to the academic freedom of the UP community be institutionalized; she added that “there’s a lot of ways by which we can protect ourselves and we can ensure these [protections] are institutionalized, and the UP Charter is one of the many faster ways to do it.” The proposed legislation will oversee the protection of the many progressive academic endeavors of the UP community without the fear from state fascist interference.

Elago, the author of one of the bills that seeks to institutionalize the 1989 UP-DND Accord weighed in on the significance of affirming the protections due to the UP Community. “[The affirmation] of the significance of the Accord to the UP community and to the national interest and the people it serves. Gusto natin na maipagtibay ‘yan sa loob mismo ng charter mismo ng UP [We want to ratify that manifesto inside the UP Charter itself],” said Rep. Elago.

Hon. Sarah Jane Elago giving her manifestation during the indignation rally against the abrogation of UP-DND Accord.
Photo by Sonya Mariella Castillo

Rep. Elago said that these proposed measures to amend the UP Charter of 2008 to insert the protection from 1989 UP-DND Accord is more than preventing yet another unilateral abrogation from the side of the state; this bill will further assert the relevance and the commitment of UP in upholding academic freedom and its institutional autonomy against any state interferences. For Rep. Elago, this bill is a “testament [to] the collective action” and an act of solidarity inexclusive to students, but rather from the people themselves who are committed “to advance human rights, and also call for justice and accountability over human rights abuses.”

By any means necessary

But more than hopes and optimism, Co explains that the supermajority present in the 18th Congress that is sympathetic to the fascist regime of the Duterte administration would be the “real obstacle” in passing this proposed piece of legislation. 

With the Supermajority in Congress, Co expressed her concerns with the possibilities of “midnight amendments” and the insertion of agenda that will serve the interests of the current fascist regime.

While the bill itself awaits plenary readings in the third regular session of the House of Representatives and a formal discussion to start similar legislation in the Senate, the bill that seeks to institutionalize the Accord will face a long process in the days to come, and “in this long process if we just put down our guards for a bit possibly may mga ganitong papasok na agenda [in the bill] (agenda like these may jeopardize the bill),” said Co. 

In fact, two hearings of the CHTE gave Atty. Norman Daanoy leverages, such as venues to hijack and pronounce red-tagging against the UP Community indiscriminately, corroborating that there are indeed roadblocks and even threats that may hinder a healthy discussion on this proposed bill. 

UPLB itself is not safe from attacks and intimidations of state forces even on ground. Last May 1, UPLB student leaders were barred by the local police on their way home from a peaceful mobilization commemorating Labor Day. Their school IDs were also confiscated at the police checkpoint, which were later returned after negotiations with the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs (VCSA) Dr. Janette Silva (READ: 10 UPLB students barred by LB police in a checkpoint on their way home for ‘violating quarantine protocols;’ VCs Silva, Cereno negotiate students’ passage).


On April 21, an incident of police presence in the vicinity of UPLB campus was reported. Photographs of police in uniform were seen in Brgy. Batong Malake, Los Baños. This incident pushed the student body to declare UPLB as a safe haven for activism and critical thinking (READ: Hindi mali ang pakikibaka’: UPLB students push to keep campus a safe haven after alarming police presence in Brgy. Batong Malake, Los Baños).

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

Rep. Elago calls on the UP community to remain vigilant and continually stand for human rights. “Alam natin kung gaano kahalaga ‘yung hindi lang natin alam ‘yung karapatang pantao pero tayo mismo nasasabuhay natin kung paano ba maisasakatuparan ito. Hindi lang para sa mga iskolar ng bayan, kundi para sa bawat mamamayang Pilipino [We know how important it is that we must not have mere wariness to our human rights but rather practicing on asserting such liberties. This is not only for Iskolar ng Bayan but also to the Filipino people].”

Rep. Elago also said that they are vigilant and observant to prevent any insertion of a self-serving agenda in amending the UP Charter.

To ever examine and modify the framework

In the latest version of the bill, an administrative sanction was included as a penalty to any violators. SR Renee Co considered this as watering down the proposed criminal sanctions against violators. Co explained that administrative sanctions can be availed even if it is not provided in the words of the bill. The administrative sanctions are “lesser” than the penal sanctions, Co added. 

SR Co further explains that administrative sanctions will subject any state violators under the jurisdictions of respective quasi-judicial agencies of the government, even of military jurisdiction. Co also noted that the processes in quasi-judicial agencies are less stringent than that of the judicial processes of civilian courts, in other words “there are a lot of means to escape accountability.”

The UP Office of the Student Regent expressed its determination to bank for stronger accountability such as criminal sanctions against violators, in which the violators will be held accountable to the jurisdiction of regular civilian courts. “[In] any means of accountability we have to push the maximum,” said SR Co. 

In the original draft of the bill proposed by Kabataan Party-List, Rep. Elago explained that criminal liabilities are the actual words and letters of their proposed penal clauses. Rep. Elago agrees with the sentiments of OSR, ensuring that Kabataan Party-List will push for stronger penal sanctions in the period of amendments when the bill is on its reading.

Beyond institutionalization

As the UP Community awaits the passage of the bill that will institutionalize the 1989 UP-DND accord, last March 29, the University Council (UC) of UPLB has approved the resolution proposed by the UPLB University Student Council (USC), All UP Academic Employees Union – Los Baños (AUPAEU-LB), and Youth Advocates for Peace with Justice (YAPJUST) to declare UPLB as a safe haven. The resolution seeks a local implementation for the protection of the institutional autonomy of UPLB, and the academic freedom and security of its constituents.


Last July 12, YAPJUST released an update regarding the implementation of the landmark UPLB Safe Haven Resolution. In a dialogue with UPLB admin and sectoral representatives, there will be a systemwide set of guidelines to address students affected by the red-tagging incidents and a network of lawyers and legal assistance in times of security threats in the campus. The UC Committee on National Issues was tasked to suggest any revisions to equip the existing UPLB security protocols.

The Oblation Park in UPLB during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo by Glen Christian Tacasa

Co said that the office applauds the UPLB community in its successful alliance with campus sectors to pass a landmark resolution on declaring UPLB campus as a safe ground for its constituents. OSR campaigns for other UP campuses to replicate similar resolutions from the UPLB’s landmark Safe Haven Resolution, and to begin efforts in declaring their respective campuses and units as safe grounds. 

Ito ‘yung pinanghahawakan natin na initiative on part of the UP admin and the UP USCs that they will work together na ma-ensure that their campuses are also safe havens similar to UPLB [This is the initiative that we bring to the UP admin and the UP USCs that they together to ensure that their campuses are also safe havens similar to UPLB],” said Co.
The Office of the Student Regent is also coordinating with other University offices, Chancellors, and Student Affairs Directors across different units within the UP system to craft institutional protocols in addressing the instances of red-tagging, and other security concerns.  [P]

Photo by Sonya Mariella Castillo

Design by Justine Marie Fuentes

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