PROTECTING HIGHER LEARNING

IJTIHAD

by MEHOL K. SADAIN

(Part III of our discourse on Academic Freedom)

Education is a cherished legacy for its enlightening and empowering role in character-molding and nation-building. As such, the Constitution mandates the State to “protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels and shall take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all”. [Art. XIV, Sec. 1, 1987 Constitution]

In addition, the Constitution guarantees the “enjoyment” of “academic freedom” by “all institutions of higher learning”. [Art. XIV, Sec. 5(a)] The Constitution does not discriminate as to ownership (public or private) or ranking in academic accomplishments. Neither does the Constitution require an agreement between the State and institutions of higher learning for the State to recognize and protect the exercise of academic freedom by these institutions.

An agreement is in fact, a surplusage, and its existence works more as a protective privilege rather than a requisite right. Hence, when universities like UP and PUP have this kind of agreement, the issue is not about protection because it is already ordained by the Constitution, and enforceable by the courts. Rather, it is about State restraint on campus activities and personalities, and its corresponding regulation. If this were a contractual relationship, the obligor or grantor of benefit is the State, while the obligee or recipient of benefit, is the university.

A contract, however, should be a “give and take” relationship. In exchange for the recognition of a right and privilege by the grantor State, the State should also be able to expect a commensurate discharge of responsibility from the recipient university. It is a responsibility that should help rather than thwart the tasks of the State in serving and protecting the people (Art. II, Sec. 4, 1987 Constitution). This should be the proper framing of the agreement between UP and the Department of National Defense (DND) that the latter abrogated on the basis of a perception that the campus is being used as a recruitment ground by what the DND considers as enemies of the State, and the agreement is abetting the same.

If UP is to fairly object to the unilateral abrogation of the agreement by DND, then it should not also insist on a unilateral interpretation and disposition of the same, without acknowledging a symbiotic responsibility to the State. As the saying goes, it takes two to tango; and it is not only about the dancers, it is also about them dancing to the same tune.

If and when the two parties are able to sit down to resolve the conflict and mutually reinstate the agreement, they must do so on the common constitutional parameters of (1) ensuring quality education, (2) protecting individual rights and (3) promoting State and public interests. The right to quality education is based on positive norms and values that are natural rights by themselves, while the protection of individual rights is an enshrined prerogative of man in a civilized society, and the promotion of State and public interests is the pursuit of the common good aided by the police power of the State.

All three can exist side by side, as rights and powers must always stand in complementary unity. A neglect of one by highlighting the other two will result in an aberration that can only frustrate the noble ideals of governance and statehood. There are no unbridled rights or powers, for only God possesses these prerogatives. This is the same God we implore in the constitutional preamble to build a just and humane society and establish a Government that shall embody our ideals and aspirations. MKS

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