It was not a surprise when Delfin Lorenzana decided to abrogate a 30-year-old agreement between the Department of National Defense (DND) and the University of the Philippines (UP) that had prohibited military and police operations inside the state university’s campuses nationwide without prior notice.

Emphasis should be placed on “prior notice” because security operations are allowed in on certain conditions, such as when police or soldiers are pursuing criminals and dissidents who may have entered the university and when arrests are made with a warrant.

At the time the agreement was signed, the military and police were together under one roof as the defunct Philippine Constabulary and the Integrated National Police (PC-INP) was still a branch of service under the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

There were actually two separate agreements that required the military and police to secure prior notice before entering university campuses. The first was signed in 1981 between then Minister of Defense Juan Ponce Enrile and students, including Sonya Soto.

The agreement, known as the Enrile-Soto accord, made campuses nationwide, not just the University of the Philippines, a haven for students’ protests.

Before the agreement was signed, students were calling for greater academic independence and freedom, the reopening of campus publications and a rollback on tuition and other fees. They were also protesting growing militarization in campuses as left-wing student leaders were hauled off to Bicutan to spend months even after then President Ferdinand Marcos lifted martial law, which he had imposed in September 1972.

The second agreement, which was specifically for UP campuses, was done in 1989 between then Defense Secretary Fidel Ramos and UP President Joe Abueva.

The agreement was requested by the university after a university employee
was illegally arrested inside the Diliman campus on suspicion he was part of a group that killed an American army colonel, the highest ranking military officer assigned at the US embassy in Manila, in ambush in Quezon City.

The military said Col. James Rowe was killed by a New People’s Army (NPA) hit squad which was very active at that time, exacting revenge against soldiers and police officers who were linked to human rights abuses during the Marcos regime.

Danilo Continente and Juanito Itaas, who were suspected to be members of the hit squad called “Sparrow Unit,” were eventually convicted by a court and sentenced to life imprisonment for Rowe’s death.

The Americans continued to oppose the freedom of Continente and Itaas even after they were eligible for release from prison in Muntinlupa.

Like most of his predecessors, except politicians who were appointed as defense chiefs after the popular uprising that ousted the dictator in 1986, Lorenzana was a staunch anti-communist.

He has been fighting the Maoist-led guerrillas from the time he graduated from the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) in the 1970s and has seen countless guerrilla atrocities, even losing some comrades in the battles.

It was his desire to defeat an enemy that pushed him to take drastic action against those perceived to be seeking to overthrow the government.

Lorenzana is in a hurry to achieve his goal. Like a basketball game, his team is on a full-court press in the last two minutes to gain victory.

From the time of Corazon Aquino in 1986, the government wanted to end the Communist rebellion, one of the longest insurgencies in the world, by peaceful means through political settlement.

The defense and military establishments had to follow the political leadership’s direction to negotiate for peace with the Communist Party of the Philippines, the New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF). They reluctantly freed captured rebel leaders as part of confidence-building moves as well as to create an atmosphere conducive to peace talks.

The rebels were so close to securing a peace deal with the government of Rodrigo Duterte, who freed rebel leaders, opened peace talks again, invited left-wing leaders to his Cabinet and allowed leftist personalities to set foot in Malacañan Palace for the very first time after he was elected in 2016.

Duterte, who claimed to be the first socialist president of the Philippines, had openly said he was a friend of the New People’s Army when he was mayor of Davao City. He had even tried to stop then Maj. Gen. Eduardo Año, an army division commander, from capturing guerrilla Leoncio Pitao, alias Commander Parago, who was cornered in his mountain lair in Davao City.

A year before Duterte was elected president, Commander Parago was killed by the military in an encounter in Paquibato district in Davao City after an Army Scout Ranger team tracked him down. This was days after a gun battle that killed three of Parago’s bodyguards.

Only a year after he became president, Duterte turned against his “friends,” purged the leftists in his government and ordered an offensive against the guerrillas on all fronts.

He wanted the Communist insurgency crushed before the end of his term on June 30, 2022, stepping up rhetoric against the guerrillas even when the country faced its most serious crisis — the coronavirus pandemic.

The defense and military establishments have found a strong ally in Duterte in their goal to defeat the insurgency. Duterte has given the military blanket authority to go after the NPA, removing all restrictions.

The military has been pounding rebel positions with mortar and artillery shells, dropping aerial bombs and using its modern equipment, like FA-50 light fighters, to deliver precision-guided bombs.

The military has also taken the lead in running after the political structure of the rebels as well as their above-ground organizations, linking lawmakers and progressive personalities in the legal profession, academe, journalism, culture and arts, and even the clergy, to the rebel movement.

It has also briefed foreign embassies in Manila on the creeping influence of the rebels through non-government organizations involved in development and social services to poor and remote communities.

The abrogation of the DND-UP agreement was part of the government’s all-out offensive to constrict the space for rebels to operate and recruit from among disgruntled citizens as the country’s economy melted down due to the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).

With millions losing jobs and livelihoods and the mishandling of the pandemic response, it was easy for the rebels to recruit. Security forces have become more abusive, encouraged by a leader who has depended too much on security forces to prop up his administration.

Duterte is committing the same mistakes Marcos made during his time. He has ruled by brute force, intimidating and threatening his critics and foes and surrounding himself with ex-generals who were appointed to civilian positions.

Empowered by the president, the military and police went further, overstepping the boundaries and pushing the anti-rebel campaign to its limits.

Last week, the military put out a list of former UP student leaders who, it claimed, had been killed or captured after joining the NPAs. It turned out the list was faulty, inconsistent and misleading.

The military was forced to apologize and took down the list it posted on its official social media pagers after some of the people on the list — lawyers, journalists, artists and entrepreneurs — protested and demanded a public apology.

The incident should serve a lesson to the military but would not probably put the brakes on its campaign to defeat the insurgency. Expect the government to further intensify its anti-Red campaign on all fronts, accompanied by more violence and more repressive actions.

The military has never enjoyed the kind of leeway it has tasted under Duterte. Time is running out and the next leader might not be as supportive as Duterte to its anti-rebel campaign.