Belmonte files bill to institutionalize academic and security freedoms inside UP, other campuses

Published January 21, 2021, 7:59 PM

by Ben Rosario

Convinced that Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana will be stubborn as a mule, a senior congressman turned instead to Congress to overturn the defense chief’s decision to abrogate the 1989 UP-DND Accord.

Deputy Minority Leader and Quezon City Rep. Jose Christopher Belmonte (Twitter)

Deputy Minority Leader and Quezon City Rep. Jose Christopher Belmonte on Thursday filed House Bill 8443 or the Academic Freedom Act of 2021 to institutionalize state universities and colleges as freedom spaces.

If passed into law, he legislative proposal will bar military and law enforcement units from operating within the university premises without the consent of school offices.

The bill will, in effect, counteract the defense establishment’s bid to conduct operations within any of UP campuses freely.

Belmonte said his bill aims to declare schools and state universities and colleges (SUCs) as freedom spaces where academic freedom is guaranteed.

It also recognizes that SUCs shall exercise full acts of ownership over their properties, which would require coordination with and authorization from school administrations for the state to conduct security operations within the school premises.

Under the bill, state forces can enter school premises in specific situations such as during hot pursuit operations and emergency events, provided that coordination with school administration is assured.

A joint congressional oversight committee will be tasked to ensure the proper implementation of provisions of the law.

According to Belmonte his proposal contains nearly similar provisions as the UP-DND Accord but will no longer allow any of the parties to carry them out.

He also explained that the guarantee of observance of academic freedom will no longer be the exclusive right of UP.

Two days after revealing the decision to abrogate the UP-DND Accord, Lorenzana revealed plans to make the same move on a similar agreement with the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

Lorenzana also agreed to the proposed dialogue with UP officials seeking a reconsideration of his decision but the DND chief appeared to be unwilling to change his mind.

Belmonte’s bill is the third legislative measure to deal on the controversy.

On Tuesday, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman filed House Resolution 1490 urging the Committee on Human Rights to conduct an inquiry in aid of legislation into the “unilateral abrogation” of the 1989 pact.

The following day, Makabayan lawmakers filed HR 1491 seeking to express the sense of the House of Representatives to uphold the UP-DND Accord and the academic freedom of all educational institutions.