Soldiers visit gardening projects in UP Diliman campus 

Published January 20, 2021, 4:57 PM

by Martin Sadongdong

A unit from the Armed Forces of the Philippines entered the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman campus in Quezon City on Wednesday aboard two military trucks to visit their urban gardening projects amid tensions caused by the termination of the UP — Department of National Defense (DND) Accord of 1989.

Personnel from the AFP National Capital Region Command and the 7th Civil Relations Group of the Civil Relations Service (7CRG, CRSAFP) passed through the main avenue of Barangay UP Campus but they did not proceed to the Quezon Hall, the famous landmark that serves as the administration building of the UP Diliman.

The soldiers coordinated with village officials so they could be allowed to visit one of their six urban gardening sites in Barangay UP Campus. 

Initially, the soldiers were stopped at the gate of the UP Diliman along CP Garcia Avenue but they were later given permission to enter and visit their gardening sites.

Major Celeste Frank Sayson, commander of the 7th CRG, said they have been constantly entering Barangay UP Campus and the UP Diliman campus itself to maintain their urban gardens and help the communities survive the COVID-19 pandemic, contrary to allegations that they are “not welcome” in the area.

Sayson appealed to the public to have an open mind as to the abrogation of the UP-DND Accord of 1989. The accord barred the military and police from entering UP campuses without prior coordination.

Earlier, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the termination of the three-decade-old pact forms part of their efforts to eliminate communist insurgency, saying that the UP has already been a “safe haven” and “hotbed” of New People’s Army (NPA) recruiters.

‘Helping UP’

When the pandemic hit and the country was placed in a community quarantine last year, Sayson said he initiated two projects — “Raise To 1 Million Gardens in NCR” and “Kapwa Ko, Sagot Ko” — to augment the food supply of poor communities in Metro Manila, particularly in Quezon City.

Sayson said the campaign “Raise To 1 Million Gardens in NCR” started in July 2020 when Metro Manila was placed under the general community quarantine (GCQ) and many people lost their income and sources of livelihood.

He said the project led to the creation of 375,000 household gardens and a total of 12 community gardens — six of which are located in Barangay UP Campus namely Pook Amorsolo, Pook Area 17, Pook Daang Tubo, Pook Arboretum Block 1, Pook Arboretum Block 2, and Pook Arboretum Block 5. 

He underscored that the people in the communities learned how to maintain and sustain their community gardens, and encourage other neighborhoods to have their own household gardens which can provide them adequate supply of vegetables, herbal and medicinal plants, and fruit-bearing plants. 

“The project catalyzed sustainability through the Whole of Nation (or WON) approach and empowered the communities through the cooperative system. It made the community resilient by educating them on organizing, mobilizing and in achieving gardening skills in order for them to become instruments of peace and development in their areas,” Sayson said.

“Moreover, it built strong networks among the old and young residents in the community on the creation of awareness in urban farming. It created opportunities of livelihood to the communities and it gave the national government an alternative solution in motivating people to stay at home,” he added.

Meanwhile, Sayson said soldiers have also entered the UP Campus in full military uniforms during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) to deliver relief goods to poor communities under the “Kapwa Ko, Sagot Ko” campaign.

“The 7th CRG in the past eight months have started, established, and maintained its campaign as ‘vessel of blessings’ in extending a helping hand to less fortunate Filipinos not only within Barangay UP campus in Diliman but also in other cities and municipality [in] the National Capital Region,” he said.

Since March 2020, Sayson said their “Kapwa Ko, Sagot Ko” campaign already extended assistance in terms of relief goods and humanitarian services to 436,140 households with 1,744,560 individual beneficiaries. 

He said they have conducted eight relief missions that benefitted IP (indigenous people) students from Salugpongan schools in Mindanao who were staying at the Fine Arts building in UP Diliman Campus at the time.

The relief assistance, Sayson noted, was also extended to UP Diliman students who were stranded in their dormitories during the height of the ECQ in Metro Manila.