By: Neil Arwin Mercado – Reporter /INQUIRER.net /January 21, 2021
MANILA, Philippines — A bill that would essentially make the recently terminated University of the Philippines-Department of National Defense (UP-DND) Accord applicable to all state colleges and universities (SUCs) in the country has been filed in the House of Representatives.
Quezon City 6th District Rep. Kit Belmonte filed Thursday House Bill No. 8443 or the Academic Freedom Act of 2021, which seeks to “strengthen and uphold the freedom of teachers and students to teach, study, and pursue knowledge and research without unreasonable interference or restriction in all state universities and colleges.”
Under the bill, no member of the government’s uniformed personnel may enter premises of any SUCs except only in cases of hot pursuit and similar occasions of emergency, or in cases of ordinary transit through the premises.
The proposed law adds that the conduct of any operation by members of the government’s security personnel may be allowed only upon prior coordination with the administration of the SUC.
It likewise states that serving of search warrants or warrants of arrest on any SUC student, faculty, employee, or invited participant in any official SUC activity shall, as far as applicable, be done after prior notification is given to the proper SUC official.
“In case of prior notification, the party serving the warrant shall coordinate closely with the members of the SUC police or security force who shall accompany and assist them in the service of warrants,” says Belmonte’s bill.
“Similarly, no warrant shall be served without the presence of at least two faculty members designated by the appropriate SUC official.”
Moreover, the proposed measure states that the arrest or detention of any SUC student, faculty, or personnel anywhere in the Philippines shall be reported immediately by the responsible head of the uniformed personnel enforcing the arrest or detention to the appropriate SUC official, who shall then take the necessary action.
“No SUC student, faculty or employee shall be subjected to custodial investigation or detention without warrant of arrest under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 without, as far as practicable, prior notice to the appropriate SUC official, and except in the presence of the counsel of choice of the student, faculty or employee, or with the assistance of a counsel appointed for them by the said SUC official,” the lawmaker’s proposal states.
Since the bill wants to declare SUCs as “freedom parks,” no permit shall be required by the national or local government for any person or persons to organize and hold a public assembly within SUCs.
“Uniformed personnel shall not interfere with peaceful protest action by SUC constituents within SUC premises,” it says.
Belmonte said in a statement that the right to protect the freedom of speech should not be limited only to UP.
“Bakit natin ili-limit sa UP? This freedom, the right to protect our freedom of speech, our academic freedom – dapat available po sa lahat itong mga prinsipyo na ito. Dapat isama na ito sa mga mandate ng state universities,” he argued.
Belmonte filed House Bill No. 8443 after the DND unilaterally terminated the agreement with UP prohibiting any military and police presence inside its campuses without prior notice.
In a letter to UP President Danilo Concepcion dated Jan. 15, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the agreement had been a hindrance to operations against communist rebels, especially the supposed recruitment of cadres in UP.
In response, Concepcion said the unilateral termination of the pact was totally unnecessary, adding that it may worsen, rather than improve, relations between the institutions.
“History tells us, repression breeds resistance. With the unilateral termination, lalo lang nila papalakihin ang problema instead of solving it,” Belmonte said.