The unilateral abrogation of the Department of National Defense (DND)DND of its accord with the University of the Philippines (UP) “aggravates the climate of distrust towards the government,” the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said on Wednesday.

In a statement, the CHR said the government should understand that academic freedom includes the expression of intellectual dissent, and should be respected by the government.

“The exercise of academic freedom, such as by conducting ideological discourses or even by holding non-violent protest activities against the government, is not the threat to State security contemplated under the law which would justify intervention by the armed forces,” it said.

“There is no justification for government to stifle the legitimate exercise of rights guaranteed under the constitution, including that of academic freedom within universities,” the CHR added.

Defense Secrertary Delfin Lorenzana on Jan. 15 notified UP President Danilo Concepcion that the agreement, executed on June 30, 1989, was unilaterally terminated.

The reason for the abrogation, Lorenzana said, was an “ongoing clandestine recruitment inside UP campuses nationwide for membership” in the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).

“The [accord] is being used by the CPP-NPA recruiters and supporters as a shield or propaganda so that government law enforcers are barred from conducting operations against the CPP-NPA,” Lorenzana said in his letter to Concepcion.

CHR said it was “alarmed by the ‘withdrawal’ of the DND from the accord.”

“Although some quarters may deem it alarmist, it is now legitimate to ask if the government, through the military (not the police), is contemplating the suppression of civil and political rights and academic freedom, within the university. Otherwise, why threaten the university with the symbolic act of repudiating the said Accord?” it questioned.

“At the same time, we have continuously advised the government to address the multitudes of social inequalities that tend to fuel protests and tendencies of rebellion in the country—the same inequalities that presidents, senators, legislators, police and military officers, community leaders, artists, and scientists, to name a few, hailing from UP are also trying to address and solve through their respective fields,” the CHR added.

The CHR also urged the DND to reconsider its position on the abrogation and remember that the government should “always work on improving the people’s enjoyment of their rights, and not diminishing or undermining them.”

“Suppression of guaranteed rights should never be the response to dissent under a democracy. Protests serve as a gauge on how well a government is responding to the needs of a nation,” it added. John Ezekiel J. Hirro