By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
Professors from various national universities on Wednesday denounced the “prevailing and looming” attacks on schools and academic freedom brought about by the threats of police and military intrusion in schools.
On the 36th year of Ninoy Aquino assassination – which fueled the anti-dictatorship movement former president Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law period, professors from Ateneo de Manila University (AdMU), Far Eastern University (FEU), University of the Philippines (UP) -Diliman, UP-Manila and University of Santo Tomas (UST), among other universities, expressed their concern on threats of intrusion initiated the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
The academicians, in a press conference at the Quezon Hall in UP Diliman, said they were prompted to “stand up” by the attacks of Senator Ronald dela Rosa and Police Chief Oscar Albayalde on teachers and universities. They also shared their views on the government’s push for police access in schools, the random drug testing of students and teachers backed by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), and proposals to rehabilitate the Reserved Officers Training Course (ROTC).
“May listahan ng mga propesor at mag-aaral na kilala na nila na nagpapahayag daw ng mga kaisipan na kumakalaban sa pamahalan,” said Ateneo Professor Dr. Francis Gealogo. The professors also alleged that members of the police and AFP “are now going around campuses” to gather data and information on teachers and their connection with rebel groups.
Aside from Gealogo, professors who shared the same sentiment included Dr. Giovanni Tapang, Dr. Rolando Tolentino, Dr. Ramon Guillermo, and Dr. Vladimir Gonzales of UP Diliman, Dr. Roland Simbulan of UP Manila, Professors George Cubillas of FEU and Jonathan Geronimo from UST – among others.
“Ang aming mga estudyante ay kabilang sa mas malaking lipunan at kailanman ay hindi sila dapat maibukod sa pang araw-araw nilang nakikita,” said Geronimo. Professors from different universities also alleged how the students and teachers were “harassed” by the police and military. Aside from intimidation, the professors noted that the initiatives of the PNP and AFP have put the lives of students in danger –with some of them killed believing they were to be part of the communist groups. Contrary to allegations by the police and military, Tapang clarified there are no New People’s Army (NPA) in UP. “Ang meron po kami dito ay mga kritikal na utak na sa tingin ko ay mas matalas pa sa mga baril,” he said.
UP Chancellor Mike Tan also joined the professors in their call against “attacks” on schools. Specifically, he opposed the proposals of dela Rosa, the AFP and PNP to “allow indoctrination” in schools noting that this is “tantamount to militarization.”
“This is a security issue that I cannot allow,” Tan said. “The rights of the students to academic freedom should be non-negotiable,” he added. On Tuesday, August 20, students of UP staged system-wide protest to denounce “threats to academic freedom” through proposed police and military intervention in schools. Given this, the professors urged the police and military forces of the Duterte government to stay away from teachers and students and take their “hands off our schools.”
Fight for academic freedom and critical thinking
Meanwhile, a youth group also denounced the alleged “threats” on academic freedom and critical thinking.
In a statement also issued on Wednesday, the Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan (SPARK) – which identifies itself as a youth organization aiming to “educate and mobilize the youth in widening its democratic rights and empower them to counter all forms of oppression and capitalist exploitation,” said that the “youth will never concede academic freedom and critical thinking” amid threats.
SPARK commended the students of UP in all its campuses who walked out of their classes and held protest actions to condemn the Duterte administration and its actions to “intrude in campuses and breach our constitutionally guaranteed rights to association, expression of dissent and hold peaceful action.”
“The mobilization of the entire UP community would not have been successful if not for the historically proven unity in action of the entire academic institution,” SPARK said. However, the group also noted that “it remains a challenge” for the Board of Regents (BOR) of UP to “express a stronger stance against planned interference and avoid being an instrument of the vile motives” of the National Security Council under Hermogenes Esperon Jr.
“Absent or not of any accord with agencies of the state, institutions of higher education should remain a spirited marketplace of ideas and ideologies where critical thinking and academic freedom are absolute requisites no tyrant can ever restrain and shackle,” SPARK said.
For the group, the UP walkout day was also the “clarion call for all students in all colleges and universities across the country to deliberately set aside personal and parochial interests.”