It was then Defense Secretary Fidel V. Ramos who signed for the government the 1989 agreement that the Department of National Defense (DND) rescinded last week prohibiting the police and military from entering University of the Philippines (UP) constituent universities without the consent of their officials.
It was unexpected of someone who was himself from the armed forces that because of their martial law experience many Filipinos identify with repression and abuse of power. But Ramos’ subsequent acts when he was President from 1992 to 1998 reveal a facet of his thinking that during his years in the military no one seemed to have noted.
There was indeed nothing in his past history to suggest that he would be any different from his cohorts. Ramos commanded the Philippine Constabulary (PC) when then President Ferdinand Marcos placed the country under military rule in 1972. Like its successor the Philippine National Police (PNP), the PC, which was part of the military, had long mastered the brutal arts of torturing confessions out of anyone unfortunate enough to fall in its clutches, of forcibly disappearing those it had abducted, and of presiding over interrogation sessions in which some subjects ended up dead. Martial law empowered it further, turning it into one of the most hated instruments of oppression of the Marcos dictatorship.
As PC Chief, Ramos also headed the Command for the Administration of Detainees (CAD), which was in charge of detaining in various prisons throughout the archipelago the hundreds of thousands of men and women arrested by the Marcos regime for alleged offenses ranging from “rumor-mongering” to rebellion, subversion and “wittingly or unwittingly” inciting to sedition and rebellion.
Marcos eventually named Ramos Deputy Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) during the waning years of his regime. But Ramos and then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile broke with Marcos, and led the armed forces side of the civilian-military mutiny at EDSA that overthrew Marcos’ rule and enabled Corazon Aquino to ascend to the Presidency in 1986. As President, Mrs. Aquino named Ramos AFP Chief of Staff and later Secretary of National Defense, from which post he rose to the Presidency by winning the 1992 elections.
If Ramos’ break from Marcos was unexpected — he was among the generals closest to the dictator and until 1986 had helped keep him in power — so were some of his acts as President. Among these were his forging a peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF); his administration’s signing the Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP); and his Congressional allies’ repeal of the Anti-Subversion Law (Republic Act 1700). In 1995 Ramos also signed into law RA 7941 implementing the Party List System provisions of the 1987 Constitution.
The precursor of these acts was his signing the 1989 agreement with then University of the Philippines President Jose Abueva prohibiting the entry of the military and police into UP campuses without permission. The skeptical could point out that even with that agreement, the police and military could still send their operatives and agents into UP campuses and classrooms in the guise of students, employees, and whatever else. In addition, getting UP officials’ permission for the police and military to enter its campuses was not a problem when, say, UP’s own security forces did not have the personnel or expertise to address a particularly problematic crime. However, Ramos’ subsequent acts as President reveal a consistency in the thinking behind them and the forging of the 1989 agreement.
That document assured UP constituents that they could at least cite it to hold the police and military accountable should they be in violation of it, and that the faculty could freely discuss their fields of expertise in the classrooms without restraint. Also among its results was the students’ focusing on internal UP and national issues other than those that directly involved the Aquino administration and its military organization. It very likely also did much to dispel student and faculty indignation over the police’s massacre of 13 protesting farmers on Manila’s Mendiola street in 1987.
Ramos’ earlier-cited acts as President were of a piece with the same strategic viewpoint. The implementation of the Party List System and the repeal of RA 1700 encouraged even would-be and actual revolutionaries to participate in governance and transformed some of them into reformists. The agreement with the MNLF brought peace to those areas of Mindanao where conflict had raged since the 1970s, and the documents his government signed with the NDFP stoked hopes for lasting peace with the Left. All these helped make the Ramos administration watch a period of relative peace.
What his policies reveal is that in addition to strategic discernment, Ramos was also armed with an awareness and understanding of the causes of the conflicts that have characterized much of Philippine history that are still rare in, and still elude, the rest of the military. Hence his capacity to look beyond his watch as President and to imagine possibilities for peace and development without compromising his soldierly commitment to the defense of the status quo. His was far from the purely military viewpoint that despite its demonstrated failure his fellow generals still favor in addressing those conflicts.
One of the more recent indicators of that failed mindset is the decision of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, a former general himself, to unilaterally abrogate the Ramos-Abueva Agreement. That decision defies understanding for not only being based on wrong assumptions but also for being counterproductive for the regime he serves.
Its adverse impact on the Constitutionally-protected freedoms to teach, learn, do research, and share knowledge is unchallenged even by the DND. The academic freedom issue aside, however, if the intent is to “protect” students from radicalization and recruitment by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and/or the New People’s Army (NPA), it will very likely convince not only some students but also the rest of UP’s constituents that there is no peaceful road to change and that it is at best a regime-fostered lie. In addition, among the immediate consequences of the DND’s in effect declaring that the military would henceforth ignore UP officials in their own jurisdictions is to further fan resentment against the Duterte regime among University students, faculty, administrative staff and its alumni in business, the arts, the sciences, the professions, the media and even in government.
Agreement or no agreement, today as during Ramos’ watch as Defense Secretary and President, nothing, not even the Constitution, can stop the police and military from deploying their spies and informers in UP. And because during the pandemic both can also easily monitor the conduct of online classes, the rescission of the 1989 Agreement seems to have no purpose behind it other than to remind UP, other universities and the rest of the country that the Duterte regime can do as it pleases with impunity and without accountability.
During the US war in Vietnam in the 1960s, United States Senator J. William Fulbright described his country’s misadventures in the former Indochinese states as driven by the arrogance of power. The same conceit is evident in the frame of mind behind this latest demonstration of the Duterte regime’s indifference to citizen rights and sentiments — and even to the Constitution. It is inciting widespread enmity and undermining itself in the process.