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Nationwide round-up (01/19/21)

UP President seeks dialogue with defense chief over accord cancellation

THE head of the country’s biggest state-run university has asked the defense chief for a dialogue over the unilateral cancellation of an agreement that keeps the police and military out of its campuses nationwide. University of the Philippines (UP) President Danilo L. Concepcion told Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana in a letter that the university regrets the unilateral revocation of the agreement signed in 1989 without prior consultation. “Instead of instilling confidence in our police and military, your decision can only sow more confusion and mistrust, given that you have not specified what it is that you exactly aim to do or put in place in lieu of the protections and courtesies afforded by the agreement,” Mr. Concepcion said. “May I urge you, therefore, to reconsider and revoke your abrogation, and request further that we meet to discuss your concerns in the shared spirit of peace, justice, and the pursuit of excellence,” he added. In a letter dated Jan. 15 posted by the official student paper Philippine Collegian, Mr. Lorenzana informed the UP President of the accord abrogation, citing an “ongoing clandestine  recruitment inside UP campuses” for membership to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, New People’s Army (NPA). The defense secretary also alleged that a number of UP students have been identified as members of the communist group. Mr. Concepcion said the university does not fear the fair and speedy enforcement of the law and condone “sedition, armed insurrection, or the use of violence for political ends.” President Rodrigo R. Duterte in November last year threatened to defund UP, the oldest public higher education system in the country.

Mr. Lorenzana’s move drew widespread criticism and lawmakers backed the UP president’s position on the need for a reassessment of the contract’s repeal. “If there are issues of violations of the law, a search warrant is a remedy available to the authorities not only in other places but also in UP,” Senator Franklin M. Drilon, a UP alumnus, said in a statement on Tuesday. Muntinlupa Rep. Rufino B. Biazon, vice chairperson of the House national defense committee, for his part, asked the Department of National Defense to reconsider its decision as it counters the objective of the agreement of protecting the youth. “Without actually occupying the campuses, the termination will give a sense of academic freedom being under siege,” Mr. Biazon said in a separate statement. Vice President Maria Leonor G. Robredo, also a UP alumnus, said the pact’s termination is a “symbolic” gesture designed to sow fear and discourage dissent. “If this was simply about law enforcement, all the Accord asks is that military authorities give notice to University officials before any operations in UP. This is neither a difficult nor onerous rule, and five Presidents since 1989 have managed to protect both the UP community and the Republic without breaking it,” Ms. Robredo said in a statement. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Charmaine A. Tadalan, and Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

Lawyers say gov’t legally bound to be transparent in vaccine procurement

THE Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) on Tuesday said the government is legally bound to be transparent with its vaccination plans despite special powers under the state of emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic. IBP President Domingo Egon Q. Cayosa said transparency is important in establishing facts, dispelling doubts and suspicions, as well as in “enhancing trust in our country’s governance.” “There is compelling legal basis for transparency, even under the COVID-19 emergency,” Mr. Cayosa said in a statement. The head of the lawyers’ group cited that the “twin provisions of the Constitution, Article II, Section 28 and Article III, Section 7, adopt a policy of full public disclosure of all transactions involving ‘public interest’ and recognizes the public’s right to information.” He also cited a Supreme Court ruling stating that “these provisions of the Constitution seek to promote transparency in policy-making and in the operations of the government, as well as provide the people sufficient information to exercise effectively other constitutional rights.” Mr. Cayosa also noted that President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s Executive Order No. 2 on Freedom of Information states that there should be “a legal presumption in favor of access to information, public records and official records.” Both chambers of Congress have held a series of hearings questioning the administration’s vaccination program, including choice of manufacturer and prices. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas

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