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Diliman Commune: The Sequel?

Opinion | Jericho James Natividad and Dionn Marie Pacot
(TRIGGER WARNING: Hanging)

Editorial Art by Ramone Tumonong

As much as Ferdinand Marcos’s kin and supporters try to salvage his narrative these days by falsely perpetuating how “successful” the Philippines was under his administration, these tragically-woven fictional Facebook posts just cannot bury the truth, let alone the trauma of activists, students, journalists, and other Filipinos. Even though most of these stories happened during the martial law period, the terror of Marcos began way before then. In fact, these instances of state-sanctioned abuse and corruption sparked the Diliman Commune.

Five decades ago, on the first of February, UP students, faculty and staff mobilized to peacefully protest rising oil prices in solidarity with jeepney drivers. They boycotted their classes and erected barricades in the streets of Diliman. Inocente Campos, a math professor who threatened to flunk students who participated in the protests, forcibly tried to drive through the barricades to force the demonstrators to disperse. When one of his tires were punctured during such an act, Campos retaliated by opening fire on the protestors — fatally wounding the freshman Pastor Mesina, who would only last for a few days.

Unsurprisingly, the professor’s homicidal “peacekeeping” efforts only catalyzed the protests, which resulted in protestors burning his car after he was arrested. When the police were sent in to disperse the barricades, violating a pre-existing agreement between the university and Quezon City, the students fortified the AS building with barricades to resist them. Eighteen students were arrested, but this did little more than steel the resolve of the demonstrators, who would continue to man the barricades for more than a week. During this time, the protestors — christening themselves the Diliman Commune — would establish a newspaper, the Bandilang Pula, and seize the DZUP radio station. They would broadcast updates on the protests, their views on the administration’s abuses, and even a sex tape supposedly of Ferdinand Marcos.

These days we may usually look back to the Diliman Commune and all the events that led to it as mere history. But in its 50th anniversary, this celebration of resistance to fascism serves as a reminder of what the UP community can do in upholding academic freedom.

Wreaking havoc in safe spaces

Recently, the Philippine government did not fail again to shift priorities despite the pandemic being a public health crisis, let alone an emergency. Department of National Defense (DND) Sec. Delfin Lorenzana, on the 15th of January, sent a letter to UP President Danilo Concepcion informing the latter of the unilateral abrogation of the UP-DND Accord, which is in fact a bilateral agreement. The decision, made without prior notice to UP officials, is a threat to the academic freedom of the University. The fact that the letter was only revealed to the public three days later spurred suspicions on the urgency of this matter for the UP administration.

It is a no-brainer that the outright disregard for this accord is rooted in the vicious spree of red-tagging that the government is so fond of. Lorenzana’s attempt in substantiating his decision by treating the accord as a hindrance to their operations is an act in futility. They claim that UP campuses have been sites of “clandestine recruitment” for communist membership — claims that have been made, without evidence, for years, without evidence. It’s a tired old song, and it was never that compelling to begin with.

While he claimed that he wanted to protect the youth, the innocent blood spilled by the minions of law enforcement have proven otherwise. Lest we forget, the illicit intrusion of police in UP Cebu, which resulted in the unjust arrest of the Cebu 7, happened while the UP-DND accord was still in effect. The fascists in law enforcement have a long history of baselessly accusing protesters, opposition figures, artists and great thinkers of communist affiliations as a way of discrediting their criticism.. By the same token, he cannot impose the public to frame the Armed Forces and the Police as trustworthy entities. He seems to overlook the fact that trust is earned.

Not only was Lorenzana’s abolishment of the accord unjust and dishonorable, it was illegal. Atty. Antonio La Viña claimed that he has no authority to terminate the UP-DND accord because it provides no exit clause. Therefore, any decision to abrogate or maintain a mutual pact must be decided by both parties concerned.

A disjointed composure of a rotting government

It is given that the dear secretary, like the other cronies of Duterte, does everything to save his face and the administration’s image. In an effort to be relevant, he insinuated that the UP system should not have “special treatment” by having such an accord. Not to turn his wisdom into a clunker, but is it not the case that all academic institutions should be granted to have freedom in exercising their rights to think and express? There is no growth in comfort and our line of thinking should always be mass-oriented. How then can we serve the nation if we are forced to live within our ivory towers? Indeed, the fight for academic freedom is the fight of everyone.

It is also worthy to mention that conflating communism or rebellion with terrorism is an outdated notion that only proves the immaturity of those in position. More so, by treating UP campuses as responsible for communist recruitment, we erase the agency of those who decided to be part of the armed struggle. UP campuses do not force their students to join any communist organizations. We have to look at the bigger picture: the ingenuine social reforms and the violence within class divide are the real reasons people take up arms.

With all of these events unfolding, we see clear parallels between the present and the events of 50 years ago. The factors that caused the Diliman Commune seem to once again be present under the Duterte administration. Hence, it is valid to await another student-led movement at this point in time. We must assert our rights because to not do so would not only mean tolerance for oppression, but would also allow future impunity and abuse of power.

Critics are the watchdogs of society. They amplify the voices that are often subdued. As such, it should be clear that any threats to academic freedom are not just threats to UP. We have to bear in mind that when critical thinking is a threat to the government, perhaps the government is too fragile to survive. The need for fearless voices becomes all the more relevant in this country. Do not be intimidated. Keep being vigilant. Join the calls to reject the unilateral abrogation of the UP-DND Accord. Through whatever immediate platform you can, join the movement to protect academic freedom.

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