Academic Freedom is not Absolute

Academic freedom has been always been invoked by teachers and students who believe in the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist and liberal political ideologies in some schools, colleges and universities in the Philippines to protect themselves from scrutiny not only by the authorities but also by the majority of Filipinos who have been suspicious of their true intentions.

NOTE: This article first appeared on this column on September 6, 2019. At that time, parents of senior high school students who were recruited by Far Left youth organizations such as the League of Filipino Students (LFS) and Anakbayan came out in the open to look for their children, narrate their experience and hold the said groups accountable for what happened to their children. There seemed to be not much noise generated by the parents back then and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) was not yet that visible.

We now move fast forward to the year 2020.  The parents have already organized themselves into a group called “Hands Off Our Children” (HOOC), with Mrs. Relissa Lucena, the mother of Alicia Jasper “AJ” Lucena, a senior high school student from Far Eastern University who was recruited by Anakbayan, being the most visible and most vocal member. HOOC now has significant online presence, especially on social media, despite their official page being taken down by Facebook for allegedly “peddling fake news,” although the American social media giant eventually apologized to them and even offered to ‘reconstruct” the page. NTF-ELCAC has now increased visibility, as its spokespersons, Armed Forces of the Philippines Southern Luzon Command (SOLCOM) Chief Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade, Jr. and Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy, have become more outspoken, with them boldly challenging the alleged front organizations of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) and the Far Left “Makabayan Bloc” party-list representatives at the House of Representatives, even up to a point that they were harassed by both the party-list representatives during House budget hearings and by the partisan press outlets that seem to sympathize with and espouse the Far Left cause.

I decided to re-release this article because nothing seems to have changed when it comes to the position of the Far Left organizations that are allegedly fronts of the CPP-NPA-NDF. In the case of those operating out of schools, colleges and universities throughout the country, and are accused of indoctrinating and recruiting young Filipinos into the Communist movement, they are still invoking “academic freedom” as their defense mechanism, a way for them to ward off scrutiny by both parents and authorities. They continue to refuse to have face-to-face meeting with both the HOOC parent-members and NTF-ELCAC officials, the most recent of which was a Senate committee hearing on alleged “red-tagging” of several Far Left organizations and personalities, including some celebrities.

The Philippine Far Left organizations and personalities stubbornly refuse to take responsibility and accountability for their actions. They also refuse to condemn the CPP-NPA-NDF for its acts of terrorism. They are still hiding the whereabouts of the students who joined their groups from their parents until now. 

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The Encyclopedia Brittanica defines academic freedom as "the freedom of teachers and students to teach, study, and pursue knowledge and research without unreasonable interference or restriction from law, institutional regulations, or public pressure." It further elaborates that the basic elements of academic freedom for teachers include "the freedom to inquire into any subject that evokes their intellectual concern; to present their findings to their students, colleagues, and others; to publish their data and conclusions without control or censorship; and to teach in the manner they consider professionally appropriate." The encyclopedia also includes the basic elements of academic freedom for students, which include "the freedom to study subjects that concern them and to form conclusions for themselves and express their opinions."

The justification for academic freedom, according to its proponents, "does not lie in the comfort or convenience of teachers and students but in the benefits to society; i.e., the long-term interests of a society are best served when the educational process leads to the advancement of knowledge, and knowledge is best advanced when inquiry is free from restraints by the state, by the church or other institutions, or by special-interest groups."

Academic freedom has been always been invoked by teachers and students who believe in the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist and liberal political ideologies in some schools, colleges and universities in the Philippines to protect themselves from scrutiny not only by the authorities but also by the majority of Filipinos who have been suspicious of their true intentions. In recent days, several female senior high school students coming from Far Eastern University and the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, some of whom are minors, went missing after allegedly joining Far Left youth organizations Anakbayan and League of Filipino Students (LFS), prompting their parents to seek the help of the government in looking for them and even using Facebook and other social media platforms to ask for assistance from the general public. One of the missing female senior high school students resurfaced, alongside fellow members of Anakbayan, at the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), claiming that she will not return to her parents and that she "voluntarily joined Anakbayan to 'serve the people'" while, at the same time, issuing statements that seem to correspond to the Far Left ideology of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and National Democratic Front (NDF) and their armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA).

The plight of the parents of the missing female senior high school students galvanized many to ask the government to start looking into the activities of teachers, student leaders and student organizations to protect the youth from being recruited and indoctrinated by Far Left groups such as the CPP-NPA-NDF and its front organizations and even by religious fundamentalists. This call was met by resistance coming liberals and leftists at the University of the Philippines, Polytechnic University of the Philippines and other schools, colleges and universities that have long been associated with Far Left politics since the 1960's, saying that such a move is "an intrusion and violation of academic freedom" and "a prelude to the 'militarization' of campuses across the Philippines." They also invoked as basis to their opposition to the call for scrutiny by government and the general public into their activities the previous agreements signed between some universities and the government during the time of then President Corazon Aquino that ban the police and military from having access into campuses unless given approval by academic officials and leaders, such as the Sotto-Enrile Accord of the University of the Philippines and the Prudente-Ramos Accord of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

The suspicion by the general public towards some teachers, students and student organizations has basis. For years, the schools, colleges and universities have been used as a venue for Far Left activities that are seditious and subversive in nature. Some campuses even openly host alleged Communist cadres from time to time, disguised as "kampuhan" of "marginalized groups." There are also allegations that some teachers and students are themselves Communist cadres or are sympathetic or supportive of the Reaffirmist Maoist CPP-NPA-NDF and its front organizations, and Akbayan and other Rejectionist Maoist groups.

Having worked as a researcher and taught the university for several years, I myself agree with the idea behind academic freedom. We must be able to instruct students and pursue research interests without interference or restrictions coming from others. However, like other rights, freedoms and privileges that are being guaranteed by law, I believe that academic freedom is not absolute, for it can be used and abused by certain elements to undermine the legitimacy of a duly elected government and the will of the majority of Filipinos. Therefore, the exercise of academic freedom has its own set of limitations and is accompanied by a set of responsibilities akin to when a person exercises his freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc.

Although it goes against the Encyclopedia Brittanica definition, I believe that it is time for the State to codify academic freedom just like freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of the press and other rights, freedoms and privileges that are being guaranteed by the laws of the Republic of the Philippines. There should be a law that would define what academic freedom is and set the parameters for the same. Doing so not only protects schools, colleges and universities from being used as a staging ground for subversive and seditious activities that undermine the State, the legitimacy of the duly elected government and the will of the majority of Filipinos but will also protect the Filipino youth while promoting an academic environment that promotes an environment for learning without any influence or interference from any particular political ideology and interest group. An academia and the exercise of academic freedom that are free from ideology and politics will greatly contribute to nation-building, especially at a time when the Philippines is moving towards realizing its true economic success potential.

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About the Author
Benedict is an agricultural economist, academician and writer. He has gained experience and expertise in various fields of economics, business, political science and public relations after through professional ventures in the academe, and in the public and private sectors. He has authored or co-authored key publications on topics ranging from agriculture and food security to global affairs and politics.
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