This essay is about the recent decision of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to scrap the 1980 accord between the University of the Philippines (UP) and the Department of National Defense (DND). Under that agreement, police personnel and military troops need to obtain the prior permission of UP authorities before they may enter any of the UP campuses all over the country.
Secretary Lorenzana said the accord was terminated because it conveniently enables the Communist Party of the Philippines and its military arm, the New People’s Army, to use the UP campuses as recruitment grounds for the red movement.
Lorenzana also lamented that many young UP students who joined the communist underground ended up dead in the armed fighting between government troops and communist guerillas throughout the country.
It appears that Lorenzana feels duty-bound to protect young and innocent UP students from getting sweet-talked inside the UP campuses into joining the rebel movement, mainly because parents are complaining that they sent their children to UP to get a college degree and not to join the rebels and die in the armed conflict involving communist insurgents.
Vocal UP officials, students and alumni, including a number who are in Congress, denounced the end of the accord. Terminating the deal, they say, will allow the presence of policemen and soldiers inside the UP campuses which, in turn, will threaten the academic freedom of the university.
UP President Danilo Concepcion prefers to keep the accord intact. Lorenzana, on the other hand, appears to have made up his mind on ending it.
With both sides fired up on this issue, there may be a need to scrutinize the accord from a sober, legal perspective.
The UP-DND accord has no stipulation on how a party may withdraw from the deal. That means the DND can lawfully withdraw at any time. Fundamental courtesy, however, dictates that the DND should formally notify UP about the withdrawal, which the DND did.
Actually, the political situation in 1989 when the accord was signed was different from the one today. Back then, President Corazon Aquino wanted acceptance by all anti-Marcos sectors in the country, UP included, inasmuch as she did not get elected to office. The accord was seen as a step in that direction.
Today, the defense establishment sees the accord as an instrument which conveniently allows the communists to use the UP campuses as their recruitment agencies.
Obviously, all UP campuses are public places. Under existing laws, policemen and similarly situated law enforcers are empowered to enter public places like the UP campuses to maintain law and order, ensure public safety, and deter crime.
Those who agree with Lorenzana argue that law enforcement is a vital public duty that cannot be made to depend on the prior permission of government bureaucrats, including UP officials. They contend that to allow UP officials that kind of power or discretion is contrary to public policy, and any agreement that is contrary to public policy is void under the Civil Code of the Philippines.
Many lawyers believe that the UP-DND accord affords extraordinarily special treatment to UP in that it makes the state university above the law because it exempts UP from the regular process of law enforcement inside public places. From that premise, therefore, the question Lorenzana asked on television — “What is so special about UP that it should be given special treatment in the field of law enforcement?” — is very difficult to answer.
Observers find it very difficult to see how the end of the accord can possibly undermine academic freedom in UP. Cops and soldiers need a judicial warrant before they can legally arrest anyone inside a UP campus, and no judge in his right mind will issue such a warrant without first satisfying the constitutional standard of probable cause, which protects the people against indiscriminate police or military action.
That being said, it has been argued that police presence inside public places like the UP campuses should be welcomed rather than condemned. Police visibility deters crime, and only the guilty ought to be truly terrified at the mere sight or presence of a policeman.