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Alarm raised over surveillance of alleged security officers in ecumenical service

By Francis Ryan Basa Pabiania | March 21, 2021

Calling it a threat to democratic rights and academic freedom of the Silliman University community, several faculty and students condemned the surveillance and monitoring of alleged university security officers‘ during their ecumenical service earlier this March.

Associate Professor Karl James Villarmea, who was among the organizers of “Thursdays in Black,” said that it was their “small contribution to the work of greater justice and to raise our awareness” in the university. Thursdays in Black is an ecumenical call and global movement lead by the World Council of Church to end rape and gender-based violence against women. 

The event was organized by faculty members of the Religion and Peace Studies Department in the Silliman University Divinity School.

Photo courtesy of Kabataan Para sa Karapatan – Negros Oriental

In a statement from SUSG Students’ Rights and Welfare Committee, it stated that during the event, participants were “consistently watched and followed by state agents” dressed in civilian clothes and in a car who took them with pictures. 

After the event, it added that several student participants were followed by the ‘same car with the windows slightly rolled down with some men inside taking several pictures of the students.’

STRAW Vice-Chairperson Alisandra Abadia, who attended the event said that the surveillance and monitoring is ‘nothing new’ as these happened to many individuals in Negros including Zara Alvarez who was tagged as a ‘terrorist’ and was killed last year. “We don’t want the same thing to happen to any Sillimanian,” she said, calling the university administration to investigate considering the incident endangers ‘university community.”

The faculty-initiated event urged to respond to the challenge of faith at this time and in celebration of Women’s Month, Villarmea said that what happened was an example of “rogue militarism,” taking pictures of concerned citizens and committing citizens without their consent. 

“In political science, what this rogue security officer did is a performance of security of governance that red-tags personalities which in this current administration is a procedure that makes them not only enemies of the state but targets of extra-judicial killing…This is the worst. The Security Officer of the Silliman University led in taking this threatening act against the faculty and students of this university,” he said.

Meanwhile, Silliman University Faculty Association (SUFA) called the university administration to ‘investigate the actions’ of its contracted security agency personnel and to disclose the ‘reasons of their concerning acts’.

“We strongly urge the University administration to conduct a fair and objective investigation all the soonest possible time and to ensure that legitimate exercise of people’s right of expression and assembly remain to be protected as sacred rights in this country and the premises of Silliman,” SUFA stated in its open letter on March 17.

‘Safe space for SU’

The SUFA and STRAW cited the increasing number of incidents in the country in terms of surveillance, monitoring, violence, killing, and among others involving reasons for exercises of people’s rights to free speech and assembly. 

SUFA stressed out that the incident raises serious security concerns for the university, especially for the faculty and students.

“It creates an environment that has a chilling effect on the exercise of fundamental freedoms – something that is offensive to the value that Silliman University places on responsible citizenship,” it said.

The unilateral termination of the UP-DND Accord, which was signed on June 30, 1989, and a list of academic institutions that red-tagged by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), STRAW said that the state will do anything, “We are systematically being stripped of our rights as students and as citizens.”

They said that an incident is an act of state oppression, thus, “Academic institutions need to remain safe spaces for its students, faculty, and staff to exercise their freedom of speech, expression, and peaceable assembly; it is these freedoms that allow us to learn to be critical thinkers and reflect upon the kind of society that we live in,” they said.

Abadia ended that this is a call for the youth to take action and fight for democratic rights. “Be critical. Examine the concrete conditions of society. Go down from the ivory towers of the university and speak up against injustices. Link arms with the broad masses and resist tyranny together,” she said. 

Villarmea, meanwhile called to make the university a space for Academic Freedom and a place where the pursuit of wisdom is nurtured, promoted, and protected.

However, the Public Assistance and Security Office refused to give comments when asked about the incident.


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