Military tries agitprop
A detail that has always struck me as revealing was that during the Diliman Commune, some residents banded together to hunt down students participating in the revolt. That was the other face of the University of the Philippines, which, before and since, has had a history of both rejecting and embracing authority. Martial law was both resisted and embraced by its alumni, faculty, and students, but there have always been those who believed in, manned, and gave intellectual support to the idea of authoritarian one-party government.
Just practically yesterday, battle lines were drawn over the question of whether the next chancellor of the University would be an exponent of UP’s antiestablishment, or pro-Marcos revisionist, tendencies.
The Diliman Commune long ago became the Diliman Cocoon. To be sure, the UP of old has long been on shaky ground, not only due to attrition (the aging, and retiring, of its Commune- and martial law-era faculty) but also to sheer demographic change. The status of UP as an imagined community of academic freedom open to all (except, that is, to “state forces”) by at least a decade ago had become a concept honored more in the breach. The proliferation of informal settler communities around it led faculty and neighbors alike to feel thoroughly bourgeois fear—of pickpockets, abductors and rapists, drug addicts and intruders—leading to checkpoints, identification cards, the creation and closing of gates, and other interventions in the name of order and security that would have been anathema a generation or more ago.
The university has always claimed, and rightly so, to be a microcosm of our broader society, and as that society shifted to the right, so it seemed that the university was headed in the same direction. There was widespread celebration when, at times seemingly to the surprise of those actively campaigning for it, the antiestablishment traditions held out and won. It turns out, there would be a round two, and that is the defense establishment turning back the clock by scrapping its agreement with the university on the intrusion of state forces into campuses.
Conscientious lawyers have pointed out that the 1989 agreement between the University of the Philippines and the Department of National Defense has no escape clause, which means it cannot be unilaterally revoked as Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana recently did. Such arguments for the maintenance of the UP accord is along the lines of the defense of the privilege of sanctuary, which has long made houses of worship immune to searches and people in it immune from seizure by the state. When the church could make martyrs and saints of people whom state forces tried to seize in churches, the violation of sanctuary could remain taboo. But so many taboos have been broken by the current gang in government that no institution is left that can impose consequences for violating such old taboos.
Lorenzana’s letter to the UP President claims “We do not intend to station military or police inside UP campuses nor do we wish to suppress activist groups, academic freedom and freedom of expression.” But if all it wants is the freedom to give Communism a dose of its own agitprop, then that is best left to civilian officials and the agencies they head.
I don’t know which is more troubling, that a member of the Cabinet could decide to scrap a generations-old accord without so much as seeking the concurrence of the President, or that the military thinks it achieved something by decreeing for itself the right to intrude into the empty campuses of the University of the Philippines in the midst of the era of COVID-19. On one hand, one can argue that Lorenzana is only belatedly implementing the policy of confrontation of his boss, who’s had the University of the Philippines in his sights for years; on the other, that the military, every bit as accomplished in political theater as its mortal enemies the Communists, merely aims to achieve a symbolic victory.
A third possibility is impossible if one thinks “military intelligence” is an oxymoron: that this is germ warfare, aimed at shrinking the ranks of its perceived enemies by driving them to hold superspreader events, which every protest rally sooner or later is bound to become.