Karapatan: Intensified police presence in campuses, an attack on academic freedom & prelude to military take-over of schools

Rights alliance Karapatan rejects former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief and Senator Roland “Bato” dela Rosa’s proposal to enact a law that will allow intensified police visibility in campuses, as well as the PNP’s calls to review the Soto-Enrile Accord which, if invalidated, pose grave threats to academic freedom and democratic rights.

“Bato does not want critical students. He wants robots like leaders of the Duterte Youth who follow orders without questions, and he proposes to do this by terrorizing schools,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay, in response to Bato’s proposal to allow police elements inside schools.

“After miserably failing to turn public opinion in relentlessly attacking and demonizing activists for encouraging the youth to join the struggle for human rights and social justice, the state forces now want to infiltrate schools in order to suppress dissent. We at Karapatan strongly oppose Bato’s proposal to allow intensified presence and visibility of the state forces in schools. A law of such kind will provide the groundwork for the wholesale violation of academic freedom and the constitutionally-granted rights to organize and free expression, and the placement of campuses in the country under a de facto martial law. It seems that the only thing that this government knows is to perpetrate fear mongering and relentless militarization, rather than addressing the legitimate grievances of the people which lie at the root of dissent,” added Palabay.

Dela Rosa expressed his intentions to push for the heightening of police presence in campuses to supposedly protect minors and the youth from the “communist indoctrination” and recruitment of “left-leaning” organizations in schools. Furthermore, according to PNP spokesperson Brigadier General Bernard Banac, the PNP’s call for heightened presence in campuses is part of the counterinsurgency operations of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.

According to Palabay, by using the very pretext of counterinsurgency, the PNP is explicitly stating its intentions to violate international humanitarian law which prohibits armed elements from operating in schools and using them as bases for armed conflict while they are being used for educational purposes—thereby exposing the state’s willingness to endanger the lives of the youth and commit human rights violations to just achieve its fascist ends.

“It doesn’t come as a surprise, however, that Bato proposes a measure which violates human rights and international humanitarian law. Let us remind him that his hands are bloodied with countless human rights violations, with the blood of students and young Filipinos such as Kian Loyd Delos Santos, Myka Ulpina, Skyler Abatayo, and thousands more who have been killed under this regime’s drug war. Bato cannot pretend to care for the lives of the youth when he has perpetrated the arbitrary killing of our Filipinos. He and this government have caused irreparable damage to the lives of Filipino families,” reminded Palabay.

The Karapatan official expressed that “the fascist state doesn’t even distinguish unarmed activists and armed combatants in its communist witch-hunt. By red-tagging activists and legal mass organizations, the state is maliciously designating unarmed activists and human rights defenders as terrorists and parties to armed conflict, therefore legitimizing state violence against activists. This is dangerous as we all have seen this regime’s bloodlust and readiness to kill, violate rights, and arbitrarily dismiss the dignity of Filipinos,” Palabay stated further.

Along with calls to revive the Anti-Subversion Law, the Karapatan official also warned that the proposal to allow the police to freely enter campuses sends a chilling effect to schools, students, faculty, and administrators who are critical of the regime’s anti-people policies.

“Allowing the police to freely enter and infiltrate campuses places the lives of student activists and organizations, faculty members, and administrations at risk of being placed under massive surveillance, intimidation, and harassment from state forces—even if state forces have been known to conduct such even without the approval of school administrations. Coupled with an Anti-Subversion Law, it is the perfect recipe for a de facto martial law situation in schools. It really is meant to silence dissent. A student criticizing the fascist regime or a professor teaching Marx and critical texts in a class can be tagged as a subversive and be expelled, or worse, abducted, arbitrarily arrested, even killed, by state forces,” Palabay said.

Karapatan instead urged the government to uphold academic freedom and democratic rights rather than resorting to campus repression by addressing the concerns of activists, as well as the root causes of armed conflict.

“Activism and social unrest thrive because the government refuses to listen to the demands of the people; activism thrives because the government answers the people’s legitimate demands with guns and bullets. Duterte, Bato, and their lapdogs in the AFP and PNP should not wonder, then, why more and more youth are joining the ranks of activist groups. Repression begets resistance, and Duterte’s fascist policies are only giving the people more reasons to fight back,” the Karapatan official ended.