Pull-out of CARHRIHL, peace talks documents from state university library sets dangerous pretext for attacks vs academic freedom

Photo from Bulatlat

Photo from Bulatlat

The decision of the Kalinga State University to remove copies from their library of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) and other public documents on the peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) “sets a very dangerous precedent in the stifling of the public’s right to access information and the exercise of academic freedom,” human rights alliance Karapatan warned.

“What’s next? Raiding and ransacking libraries and the public burning of books like what the Nazis did? Removing documents on the peace process from a university library’s collection is absurd. These are public documents — some of them, such as the CARHRIHL, were signed by the government. The only effect that this decision has is to restrict academic discourse and information on the peace negotiations and armed conflict in the country,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated.

Last September 2, 2021, the director for library services office of the Kalinga State University Bulanao Campus pulled out at least 11 books and other publications from the NDFP which they turned over to the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police to supposedly safeguard students and the school from “communist infiltration.” Along with copies and translations of the CARHRIHL, among those withdrawn include:

  1. The Declaration of Understanding
  2. The NDFP Declaration and Program of Action for the Rights, Protection, and Welfare of Children
  3. The GRP-NDFP Peace Negotiations Major Arguments and Joint Statements September 1, 1980-June 2018
  4. The GRP-NDFP Peace Negotiations Major Written Agreements and Outstanding Issues
  5. NDF Adherence to International Humanitarian Law: Letters to the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN Secretary-General
  6. NDFP Adherence to International Humanitarian Law: On Prisoners of War
  7. Two articles on the People’s Struggles for Just Peace
  8. The NDFP Reciprocal Working Committee Perspectives on Social and Economic Reforms

Palabay said that the publications on the CARHRIHL helped in providing information to communities on people’s rights and the international humanitarian law. “Is the government so allergic to knowledge on human rights principles that it goes down to this kind of censorship?” she asked.

The decision of the Kalinga State University’s Board of Regents to pull out these materials was supposedly prompted by the Anti-Terrorism Council’s designation of the NDFP as a terrorist organization under the Anti-Terrorism Act. Palabay averred such action “clearly shows the chilling effect of the terror law on free speech and academic freedom — such that counter-terrorism effectively represses information, as well as freedom of thought and knowledge.”

“Libraries, especially those in schools and universities, should be bastions of unrestricted access to knowledge, which is necessary for free academic inquiry and discourse. Repressing access to documents of the peace negotiations by pulling them out of school libraries is an attack on academic freedom that does nothing to resolve the roots of armed conflict and bring about just and lasting peace in the country,” the Karapatan official said.

“That this action is being lauded by the Regional Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict in Cordillera as part of their so-called ‘whole-of-nation’ counterinsurgency campaign is utterly despicable: the government is simply showing its hand in enabling a brazen attack on academic freedom to forward its insidious militarist agenda. We strongly call on schools, universities, and libraries to stand their ground against such attacks and to safeguard free academic discourse in their halls. We call on the public to uphold our right to information,” she ended.