As we venture into the new year, we hope for a change. We yearn for something different from what we’ve encountered last 2020. Yet, things that we have witnessed before seem to happen again as there have been attempts to silence dissent and opposition once more.

In a letter publicized last January 18, the current administration junked the decades-old UP-DND (University of the Philippines-Department of National Defense) Accord. This pact prohibits military presence inside the UP Campuses without coordination with the university administration.  

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana justified this abrogation of the accord as protection for the youth from ‘recruitment’ of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA). However, since Lorenzana has not offered any evidence in his claim, this statement appears as blatant red-tagging of UP by Duterte’s cronies. 

This scene isn’t new anymore. The government has labeled the opposition, activists, and progressives as ‘communists’ and a threat to national security. Even celebrities who show support for non-government organizations and groups aren’t excused from this practice. 

This “culture” of silencing those who use their voice—especially the youth—continues, as private institutions join the government in red-tagging students. A grade 12 student from a renowned university was sentenced with non-readmission because he participated in a mass organization not accredited by the school. Another student from the same university followed his lead and was given a show-cause letter for the same reason.

With these events transpiring, it prompts the questions: Why are institutions and the government afraid of the youth? Should schools be a safe haven for students’ democratic actions? When schools fail to protect students inside the school’s premises or under their jurisdiction from exercising their rights, where can we do so? 

It also makes me question how others in my circle and on social media reacted to these events: neutral or affirmative. The constant red-tagging of students, regardless of where they study, is a massive threat to our academic freedom. Since Duterte has attacked the top state university in the country, it will be easier for him and his administration to attack and sow fear among other universities (and schools, whether public or private) that critique his governance. It will be easier for institutions to join them as accomplices and silence the voice of progressive youth. All of these are happening while the country’s COVID-19 situation is worsening and the Anti-Terrorism Law is in effect. 

Since government officials have become the prime leaders of red-tagging, schools should commit to protecting students’ rights. The only war allowed under their discretion should be the “war” of different ideas and discourse. Students should feel safe in exercising their democratic rights. They should be allowed to share their thoughts and have a voice, whether through social media or publications such as these, as long as it is respectful. UP is an example for schools across the country of how academic freedom should be nourished.

On the other hand, instead of targeting the youth, the government should direct its efforts for our country’s development. Instead of investing their time on UP, the Department of National Defense should focus on who the real enemies of the state are. They should focus on more important issues that would benefit the common good and not those that only hurt their ego.

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