Why Blame U.P.?

The recent brouhaha over the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) list of former U.P. students accused of joining the New People’s Army (NPA) or were allegedly captured by the military shows the military’s irresponsibility and lack of concern that they could have put the lives of those on the list in danger.

People were surprised – and understandably furious – since some of the individuals in the list are public or government figures; others are private individuals.

True, the military has since then apologized for their gaffe. But for me it’s a little too late. The harm has been done.

It was not a surprise that the list was released after Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana abolished the University of the Philippines (UP) and the Department of National Defense (DND) accord prohibiting the presence and operations of the police and the military inside UP’s campuses.

The UP-DND accord, signed in 1989, has several provisions which include the following: A) search and arrest warrants for students, faculty members, and employees shall be given only after notifying the UP administration; B) the arrest and detention of any UP student, faculty, and employee shall be reported immediately by the authorities- in-charge to the UP administration; C) state officials shall not interfere with any peaceful protest being conducted by the UP’s constituents within the premises of the university.

The long and short of it is that the purpose of the accord is to protect the students, faculty and employees of UP from potential military abuses and to protect academic freedom and dissent.

The sudden abrogation of the accord could be due to the government’s latest crackdown against dissent, citing unfounded in-campus recruitment of students by the NPA, the National Democratic Front (NDF) and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

Lorenzana’s justification is that the agreement is “a hindrance in providing effective security, safety, and welfare of the students, faculty, and employees of UP.”

Security from whom?

The government has accused UP for being a haven for communist recruitment. I find the accusation to be misplaced. Such an accusation is based on a myopic view on what a university should be.

As an educational institution, UP thrives because it respects the academic freedom of everyone. Academic freedom is fundamental not only to education but to the country being a democratic society. Without academic freedom, there’s no real education.

Wikipedia defines academic freedom as the freedom of the scholars to teach or communicate ideas or facts – including those that are inconvenient to external political groups or to authorities – without being targeted for repression, job loss or imprisonment.

The Academics for Academic Freedom of the United Kingdom believes in the principle that academics have unrestricted liberty to question and test received wisdom and to put forward controversial and unpopular opinions, whether or not these are deemed offensive or not.

When students, therefore, discuss in class, in whatever shape or form, controversial issues in society like government corruption or poverty or the adverse effects of red-tagging, it is not an invitation to rebel against the government. It is not indoctrination, it is education. It’s part of academic freedom.

Dr. Bob Suzuki, former president of California State Polytechnic University, visualizes education as helping students “analyze critically and make intelligent decisions about real life problems and issues through the process of dialogical inquiry. Finally, it should help them conceptualize a vision of a better society and acquire the necessary knowledge, understanding, and skills to enable them to move the society toward greater equality and freedom, the eradication of degrading poverty and dehumanizing dependency, and the development of meaningful identity for all people.”

The purpose of education then is not solely to develop the intellect. The purpose of education is not only to promote a literate society but to promote a fair and just society as well.

A true educator knows that educating for academic skills alone, though important, is not sufficient to prepare students to be socially responsible. Students should also be taught how to analyze and think critically so that they are able to fully understand the forces that shape society and what awaits them when they graduate.

Something is wrong when a student, according to Martin Luther King Jr, graduates “with reason, but with no morals,” and, if I may add, with no understanding how one can positively contribute to the betterment of society. Thus, the worst thing that UP or any other university can do to its students is to insulate them from societal problems and challenges.

What the students want to do with the accumulated knowledge that they have gained is their own decision to make. No one can do it for them – not their professors, not their parents, not even CPP founder Joma. Sison. So, don’t blame UP if some of its students and alumni/ae freely join the NPA-NDF-CPP out of their conviction even if we may not agree with their decision.

Blame, instead, extreme poverty. Blame unabated government corruption. Blame the military repression of dissent. Blame the extrajudicial killings of activists and suspected drug addicts. Blame the lack of justice.