UP Manila (UPM) became the latest constituent university (CU) to form a Committee on the Promotion and Protection of Academic Freedom and Human Rights (CAFHR) on Sunday, coinciding with the 75th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The panel must report its reviews and recommendations on existing and proposed initiatives to uphold academic freedom, document violations against UPM constituents and possible responses, and plan academic freedom workshops and information campaigns. The body’s first report is expected on February 9, 2024.
In August 2022, UP Cebu (UPC) formed a similar body, the Committee for the Promotion of Academic Rights. It was tasked to “conduct activities and events geared towards promotion and protection of the academic rights of the UP Cebu community,” according to an order by UPC Chancellor Leo Malagar.
The Office of the Faculty Regent (OFR) called for a systemwide Tipunan assembly to discuss the creation of the committee in February, which was used as the basis for UPM Chancellor Michael Tee’s administrative order. Since then, the push to institutionalize the CAFHR has gained traction across CUs.
The University Councils (UC) of UPC, UP Diliman (UPD), and UP Baguio (UPB) each released statements of support in September followed by UP Visayas (UPV) in October, while UP Los Baños and UP Mindanao also voted in favor of creating the committee in November. The UC is the highest academic body in each CU.
“The committee both at the levels of the UP System and its constituent universities will serve as a mechanism for monitoring and coordination, and provision of legal and administrative aid to faculty, staff, and students in distress,” said Faculty Regent Carl Marc Ramota in a statement on Sunday.
The idea of the CAFHR was originally proposed in January by Ramota, following cases of abduction, harassment, and red-tagging of UP constituents.
Ramota cited the abduction of UPC lecturer Armand Jake Dayoha and alumna April Dyan Gumanao as trigger for the creation of the committee. Dayoha and Gumanao stated that they were nabbed at Cebu Port on January 10 and held captive for five days by alleged state agents.
Cases of enforced disappearances or illegal detentions, like UPB student activists Bazoo de Jesus and Dexter Capuyan and former UPD student Job David, persist along with incidents of harassment and red-tagging of UP professors.
Examples of such incidents are the death threats sent to Phoebe Sanchez, a professor of sociology and history, and Regletto Imbong, an assistant professor of philosophy. Noa Santillan, assistant professor of philosophy and social studies, is another victim of unfounded questioning by state forces at a checkpoint in Cebu.
“Incidents against the UP community and cases of national scope show how red-tagging has become normalized as one of the state’s instruments for muzzling the truth and silencing its critics,” said the UPD UC in its statement on September 13.
But red-tagging extends not only to UP constituents themselves but also to their published works, with attempted bans on various works by UP professors and alumni to curb literature deemed subversive by the state. Professors and authors Rommel Rodriguez, Dexter Cayanes, and Reuel Aguila are some of the writers whose books were tagged as subversive by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.
“In recent months … the mere chanting of protest calls inside a bus, as well as walking on the sidewalks towards a mobilization site, have been unlawfully prohibited by the members of the local [police],” said the UPV UC in a statement, showing increasing state attempts to stifle dissent.
UPM Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Bernadette Heizel Reyes will serve as the CAFHR chairperson, and representatives from other UPM units, workers’ unions, the student council, and university police will be members, reflecting the multisectoral involvement in the initiative.
Both workers’ unions and sectoral regents elevated the proposed institutionalization of the CAFHR to UP President Angelo Jimenez on April 26, yet CUs still await a systemwide implementation. In the meantime, UP constituents remain vulnerable to academic freedom and human rights violations.
“These cases highlight the need for the university to intensify efforts by employing its administrative and legal machinery to safeguard its constituents against all forms of human rights violations, and keep its campuses and communities a safe haven for political thought and action,” said the OFR. ●
A correction was made on Dec. 15, 2023: An earlier version of this article mistakenly attributed UP Manila’s Committee on the Promotion and Protection of Academic Freedom and Human Rights as the first across the UP System. UP Cebu formed a similar body as early as August 4, 2022, but was named “Committee for the Promotion of Academic Rights.”
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