PEACETALK: For UP as a Zone of Peace per RA 11188

NAGA CITY (MindaNews / 05 February) – Allow me to add my legal two-cents worth to the current hot issue about Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana’s unilateral abrogation of the 1989 Department of National Defense (DND)-University of the Philippines (UP) accord barring military and police operations in its campuses without prior notification to (not permission from) its administration, except in “cases of hot pursuit and similar occasions of emergency,” with nothing to be “construed as a prohibition against the enforcement of the laws of the land.”  I wish to bring to the attention of the public discussion, and also of the proposed mediated DND-UP dialogue, one of the laws of the land, a new law that may be relevant and helpful for a fair alternative resolution of this dispute by presenting another, different, angle of approaching it.

I refer to Republic Act  No. 11188, the Special Protection of Children in Situations of Armed Conflict Act which took effect in early 2019. This has relevance because Sec. Lorenzana’s reason for abrogation is that the accord has been taken advantage of by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-New People’s Army (NPA) to recruit into its ranks from among the UP studentry. In other words, there is a context or motivation of ending the local communist armed conflict, presumably framed by the President’s Executive Order No. 70 for that purpose.

R.A. 11188, or more particularly its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR), provides that “All Local government units (LGUs) in coordination with the Inter-Agency Committee on Children in Situations of Armed Conflict (IAC-CSAC) shall come up with an initial list of areas and structures that are considered as Zones of Peace,” in short LGU recognition of what are already considered as Zones of Peace. Now, R.A. 11188 defines Zone of peace as “a site with sacred, religious, historic, educational, cultural, geographical or environmental importance,  which is protected and preserved by its own community. It is not merely a ‘Demilitarized Zone,’ but a sanctuary that operates within ethical principles of nonviolence, free from weapons, acts of violence, injustice and environmental degradation. The recognition of the Zone of Peace expresses commitments on the part of its community, governmental authority and, if appropriate, religious leadership to preserve the peaceful integrity of the designated site. Its custodians, members, participants and visitors exemplify mutual respect and nonviolent behavior while on site, and share their resources for furthering peace and cooperation.” (underscorings supplied)

UP is definitely a site with historic, educational and cultural importance that should be considered a Zone of Peace under this definition and R.A. 11188. This recognition needs only to be formalized, particularly in an initial list by the concerned LGUs where the various UP campuses are found, such as and especially Quezon City covering its main Diliman campus to start with.

R.A. 11188 also specifically prohibits as Grave Child Rights Violations (GRCVs) the following acts, among others: (1) attacks on schools; and (2) recruitment, conscription or enlistment of children into governmental forces and other armed groups. Attacks “refer to occupation, shelling or targeting for propaganda of schools…; causing damage to such places, or harm or injury to their personnel; or causing the total or partial physical destruction of such facilities; or disruption of educational activities…”  Targeting for propaganda of schools applies to both sides of the armed conflict.

Children refer to persons below 18 years of age. Recruitment “refers to compulsory, forced or voluntary conscription or recruitment of children into the governmental armed force, or forced or voluntary membership into the armed group.” Armed group “refers to an armed non-State actor or non-State entity engaged in armed violence against the State or its governmental forces…” This would certainly include the CPP-NPA.

All told, the DND-UP accord abrogation issue resolution should consider R.A. 11188, one of the laws of the land that are deemed written into the accord, and which law appears to cover key concerns of both institutions.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Soliman M. Santos, Jr. is presently a Judge of the Regional Trial Court of Naga City, Camarines Sur;  a long-time human rights and IHL lawyer; legislative consultant and legal scholar; peace advocate, researcher and writer; author of a number of books; and a UP alumnus from the years 1970 to 1975.)

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