UP Mindanao prof says libel complaint by former school official baseless

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/15 April) — A professor at the state-run University of Philippines Mindanao said the libel complaint filed against 19 of them by a former university official are baseless and an attack to their freedom of expression.

“If the teachers and personnel in the national university are afraid to speak up, it sets a very bad precedent, hindi sya magandang imahe at pangyayari sa ating national university,” assistant UP professor Andrea Malaya M. Ragrario told reporters at the Hall of Justice in Davao City on Thursday.

Ragrario, who is chapter president of All-UP Academic and Employees Union (UP Mindanao), said the complaint was filed after the professors issued a statement and an open letter objecting to Assistant Prof. Karen Joyce Cayamanda’s membership in the search committee for the UP Mindanao chancellor last year.

The accused filed their counter-affidavits accompanied by lawyers Joel Mahinay and Angelito Ramos.

In their press statement the accused said they accepted the legal challenge “and will fight this battle well even if this terrain is not of our own choosing. But, as professors and academics, the arena we are most at home with is the university, where free discussion and rigorous debates should reign.”

Ragrario maintained that the statement and the open letter were not published publicly as these were only addressed exclusively to the UP community through an internal email loop which can be accessed only by all UP Mindanao units.

“Our hope is for our assertion to be heard, that this is a principled engagement, that our government officials should be okay to accept criticisms, that they should be okay in being held accountable. So, in the spirit of that, we think that the libel complaint against us is baseless and we are going to fight it,” she said.

On July 9, 2015, the accused — department chairs, program coordinators, and senior faculty members — issued a statement on “the collective declaration on the state of UP Mindanao at present and call of leadership changes in key administrative positions”.

The open letter was issued on December 8, 2015.

“For us, that’s the easiest way to disseminate what is supposed to be an open statement,” Ragrario said.

Academic freedom

“What we are fighting for is the academic freedom and freedom of expression. Right now, we are hoping at this early stage, the complaint will be found baseless, so that this will not be detrimental to other operations of the university,” Ragrario said.

She said the complainant, who was former vice chancellor for academic affairs, was allegedly involved in questionable practices, among them, failing to follow a “proper channel of communication which almost led to the jeopardy of renewal of the teachers and lack of transparency in several policies”.

She said their statements did not intend to malign Camayanda but was purely work-related.

She added their position contained no malice, only principled observations of Camayanda’s performance.

“We assert that this ‘culture of litigation’ sets a dangerous precedent for any institution that thrives on freedom of expression. It sends a chilling message that we can no longer speak up, lest we be faced with a court charge,” the statement read. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)