Original Writing

Defend our Free Spaces! Defend UP!

Written by Hubren Estor.

The Duterte regime’s attacks on our civil liberties continue, this time aimed towards the youth. Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced that the DND would unilaterally terminate the UP–DND Accord, effective January 15. This targeted attack by the state is nothing new or unprecedented from Duterte’s henchmen.

The UP–DND accord had ensured the freedom of students to organize within the university by the state and protected the students from state persecution by prohibiting the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) from entering the campuses of the University of the Philippines (UP) without prior notification. This was one of the few hard-fought victories by the students in asserting their rights and a trophy earned through years of resistance amid state repression and forced disappearances. To take that away shows blatant disregard for students’ rights and welfare, and to do so unilaterally—a move whose legality is unclear—only drives the point home. It is a naked exercise in flexing the state’s might and crushing dissent with a mailed fist.

The reason given by Lorenzana in cancelling the accord—that the accord is an obstacle in the administration’s goal of eliminating the Communist Party and their armed wing, the New People’s Army—is proof of the government’s desire to silence criticism by any means necessary. This is a tired excuse! This was the excuse of Marcos in declaring Martial Law, and it is now the excuse of Duterte in justifying his program of murdering everyone in his way. It is the excuse of power-hungry tyrants that view criticism as an existential threat. The insinuation that certain sectors of the university community are communists is another tired trope used to malign activists and obscure the real reason for their resistance.

But in the first place, there was nothing but the goodwill of the DND ensuring that they would always respect the accord. In fact, violations could be seen dating back to last year when students holding a protest action in UP Cebu were hounded by police on university grounds. The existence of the decades-old accords, the CAHRIHL, and even the constitutionally guaranteed Bill of Rights is only as powerful as the will of those in power to respect them, yet this has not stopped the Duterte regime from disregarding them all to indulge in crimes against humanity. The abundance of legislation aimed at uplifting the most oppressed sectors of society has not at all alleviated their suffering. The law of the state is but a gentleman’s agreement: what happens when our rulers are the opposite of gentlemen? We still await the hearings before the Supreme Court of the Anti-Terror Law. Will we also wait for the courts, ostensibly packed with Duterte sycophants, to save us this time?

When the state has turned towards its own people, who do we call? The imperialist United States? They would never make moves against a president who, for all his anti-American grandstanding, still kowtows to them? The CPP-NPA? We have heard tales of their own offenses time and again. It falls unto us to defend ourselves by any means necessary. We must stand against our oppressors, with militancy and force if need be. We must dismantle the supremacy and legitimacy of the attack dogs of our ruling elite. Woven into our history is a tradition of resistance; we must revive it once again.

But no matter what, we cannot let this stand. The students of UP will not let this go unnoticed. The students have always stood firm against the tides of state oppression, most famously during the Diliman Commune—a student-led uprising which saw the university barricaded as students and transport workers on strike fought against the police in the streets. History often repeats itself, and if that means the return of state oppression, so too shall the fires of activism and resistance return.