January 21, 2021 (12:23 PM)

5 min read

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The youth do not make it to universities because they can’t think. 

In fact, we manage to pass tedious entrance examinations and eventually, weather the academic pressure of college life thanks to this capacity to comprehend, assess, and even debate ideas discussed in the classroom. So, I wonder, what must be going on in Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s head when he says that the abrogation of the 1989 University of the Philippines (UP)-Department of National Defense (DND) accord was an exercise of protection for the youth?

On Monday night, the DND unilaterally scrapped its agreement with UP which prevented state forces from entering any of its campuses without prior notice to the university administration (READ: What you need to know about the UP-DND accord). Lorenzana justified the move, claiming that the agreement was a “hindrance in providing effective security, safety, and welfare of the students, faculty, and employees of UP.” The state university has been branded by President Duterte himself as a recruitment ground for the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).

Critics have since slammed the decision, and rightly so, citing that the DND lacks substantial evidence to prove the existence of in-campus recruitment activities. Legally, experts say that there is no basis to terminate the agreement since it neither provides for an exit clause nor allows only one party to scrap a mutual pact. 

Clearly, the removal of safeguards for intellectual inquiry is also an affront to academic freedom. Despite the strong heritage of student activism in UP, this sends a chilling message that expressing dissent within the campus may now be met with violence, and criticism with repression. No matter Lorenzana’s assurances that this not infringe on students’ rights, we need only to recall the UP Cebu incident last year to be suspicious of such promises (READ: Terror bill protests: Cebu cops arrest 8 inside UP campus).

Yet again, we are confronted by unwarranted government decisions in this pandemic. Like many inhumane policies in the past under the Duterte administration, what seems to be so problematic about the termination of the UP-DND accord, aside from those mentioned above, are the assumptions that the DND and the government in general make about students and political ideas. 

By saying that it intends to “protect the youth,” the DND is implying that students are just passively absorbing ideas and thereby, unable to decide for themselves. This undermines the great potential of students to contribute to social change. 

Historically, students have played a vital role in liberating and improving our society. From Jose Rizal to the martial law activists of the 70s, including some Ateneo de Davao University student leaders and Atenews editors, the youth’s idealism challenged what was then an oppressive status quo. Their writings, public engagements, and yes, activism, were instrumental in bringing forth today’s democracy.

How could they have developed this drive and patriotism if not for the safe space provided by the academe?

Secondly, there seems to be an assumption that political ideas themselves propel people to commit sedition. But at the end of the day, aren’t ideas just ideas until the social, political realities and injustices concretize people’s desire for a revolution?

It may be a fact that some UP students have chosen to join the CPP-NPA, but so did students from other schools and even individuals who did not step foot in universities at all. Sedition is not brewed by merely studying at the country’s premier state university or reading the works of Karl Marx; there are a host of factors, most of them caused by the inefficiency and corruption in the government itself, that influence a person’s political decisions.

The right of the youth to freely think must be protected and upheld at all costs. This cannot occur under an obsessively paternalistic state which, ironically, claims to be concerned for their welfare but, at the same time, red tags students and polices the scholarly institutions that liberate them. The DND must revoke its abrogation of the UP-DND accord. Echoing the anthropologist Gideon Lasco, the said agreement should be extended to all universities to ensure safe spaces for learning and to empower the youth to exercise their agency.

If the government is so bent on succeeding in its counterinsurgency efforts, then it must shift its focus from repressing the academic freedom of students to providing decent jobs to the unemployed, promoting local markets for farmers, defending indigenous peoples rights, and holding corrupt public officials accountable.

The whole rhetoric that students need saving from “bad elements” is flawed. It has been proven time and time again that we are capable of making sound and educated judgments ourselves with the nurturance of the academe. Besides, sedition would not be an option had social conditions been just and humane in the first place.


About Gwyneth Marie Vasquez - Masawa

Gwyneth has a restless mind that never settles for what is given. This serves her well as an Anthropology student, although it sometimes gets her into trouble outside her academic life. She was Atenews's Editor-in-Chief in AY 2020-2021 and her column name, "Masawa" means 'bright and clear' in Binutuanon.




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