The chancellor of the University of the Philippines' (UP) flagship campus on Tuesday said the defense department needs to show proof of its claim that the university is a venue for "clandestine recruitment" into the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People's Army.
Members of the UP community are protesting the Department of National Defense's (DND) unilateral termination of a 31-year-old pact with the university barring the entry of state forces into its campuses without prior notice to UP officials.
In junking an agreement that has for decades made UP a "safe space" for protests, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana claimed that rebels are recruiting UP students into the communist movement.
In an interview with The Mangahas Interviews, UP Diliman chancellor Fidel Nemenzo said UP students are exposed to all ideologies, but that the allegation of "clandestine activities" must be backed up by evidence.
"Of course, dahil sa academic freedom, binabasa ng lahat ng students— malaya silang magbasa, mag-isip, pag-usapan ang lahat ng klaseng ideolohiya— from right to left," he said.
"This is the trademark, this is why UP education is special... 'Yung sinasabi niyang clandestine activities, that needs proof. You cannot simply cancel an agreement because you suspect there is a clandestine activity," he added.
Nemenzo said that "red-tagging," or the act of labelling groups and individuals as communist rebels or fronts, may lead to unlawful arrests and violence.
"We don't want to coddle violators of the law but we will protect the right of our students to say what they want to think, to express opinions within the university," Nemenzo said.
As he expressed the university's willingness to engage in a dialogue with the DND, he stressed that the UP not only busies itself with activism but also produces leaders in different fields.
Nemenzo said he hopes the issue will be resolved peacefully, with both UP and the DND returning to the "spirit" of the accord, which he said represents "mutual respect" between the two institutions.
UP president Danilo Concepcion earlier called the termination a "totally unnecessary and unwarranted" action that was done without consulting the university. He has urged Lorenzo to reconsider his decision.—Nicole-Anne Lagrimas/LDF, GMA News