by Fr. Joel E. Tabora, S.J.

  1. Academic freedom for higher education institutions is provided by the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines:  “Academic freedom shall be enjoyed in all institutions of higher learning” (Art. XIV. Sec. 5.2).
  1. The provision is self-executory.  It does not require an enabling law.  
  1. The institution of higher learning (or higher education institution [HEI]) in the Philippines – be this a university, a college, or a professional institution – is the community of administrators, faculty members, support staff and students that engages in higher learning.  
  1. Historically, academic freedom belongs to the essence of HEIs which as universities in 10th to 12th century Europe began as groups of students and teachers who came together to search for truth in academic freedom, i.e, free of external limitation or constraint.
  1. That academic freedom in HEIs in the Philippines is guaranteed by the Constitution attests to the recognized value of academic freedom in HEIs.  In the United States academic freedom is not provided by the Constitution but defined by the US Supreme Court (cf. landmark Sweezy vs New Hampshire case.) Here the essential academic freedoms are defined by Justice J. Frankfurter as:  the right to determine (1) who may teach; (2) what may be taught; (3) how it shall be taught; and (4) who may be admitted to study.  This definition has been adopted in Philippine jurisprudence on academic freedom, e.g. Ateneo de Manila vs. Capulong.  
  1. Considering academic freedom is not defined by the Constitution, its theoretical definition is open in principle as its exercise in history may continually redefine its meaning.  
  1. However, the right and necessity to define academic freedom operationally belongs to the HEI in which academic freedom is vested according to the exigencies of higher learning, i.e., the search for truth in instruction, research and service to the community according to the disciplines it engages in or evolves in implementation of its vision and mission and in active interaction with the community of HEIs in the Philippines.  
  1. Relevant to the exigencies of higher learning in the Philippines are the constitutional provisions that in all HEIs “the study of the Constitution shall be part of the curricula” and that “they shall inculcate patriotism, nationalism, foster love of humanity respect for human rights, appreciation of the role of national heroes in the historical development of the country, teach the rights and duties of citizenship, strengthen ethical and spiritual values, develop moral character and personal discipline, encourage critical and creative thinking, broaden scientific and technological  knowledge and promote vocational efficiency” (Art. XIV. Sec. 3 (1-2).
  1. Since academic freedom is vested in the HEI, it is the HEI itself that safeguards it in its judicious use of it for the benefit of society.  Here, it provides society with the space free of external constraint to sift truth from untruth (fake news, manipulative conspiracy theories, alternative facts), right from wrong according to methods (discussion, debate, dialogue, research, evidence, data, data analysis, etc.) it has in academic freedom adopted or developed.  Truth/right contributes to what is truthful or right in society and destabilizes what is untruthful or wrong in society, so ultimately benefiting human society.   Standing for truth/right in an untruthful/unjust society is fraught with risk, but belongs to the soul of the academic community.
  1. In this context academic freedom is neither contingent on nor guaranteed by an external security force, be this a police or military force, but by the commitment to truth/right of the HEI and its actual community.  
  1. Constitutional rights like the right to free speech, the right to assemble, the right to petition Government for redress of grievance, the right to form associations, and the right to life and liberty (cf. Art. III) are not lost because one participated actively in the life of an HEI.
  1. Critical discussion and debate on the pros and cons of a political system, order or ideology, of a faith, a faith system, a culture or cultural systems belongs to the academic freedom of HEIs.  
  1. The regulative bodies of education do not define academic freedom but the minimum standards of learning.