On February 6, 2023, undercover police arrested Melania Flores, a professor at the University of the Philippines (UP) and the immediate former president of the All UP Academic Employees Union, at her on-campus residence.
Police officers dressed and presented themselves as social workers when they arrived at Flores’ residence. The officers presented a warrant for her arrest on a charge of violating a section of the Social Security Law relating to the remittance of society security contributions. The warrant, issued five months earlier, on September 6, 2022, was based on allegations that Flores did not pay a home helper’s social security contributions when they were employed between November and December 2013. (Authorities reportedly did not notify Flores of the warrant or allegations prior to her arrest.) Police took Flores into their custody and released her on bail of P72,000 (roughly $1,314 USD) later that afternoon.
On March 21, 2023, a court dismissed the charges filed against Flores after the state pension authorities reportedly submitted an affidavit of desistance, declaring that they no longer sought to pursue the case. It was also reported that Flores had signed an affidavit confirming that she had indeed paid social security contributions.
Flores’ on-campus arrest prompted the UP administration, faculty, students, and activists to raise institutional autonomy concerns, noting that the police action violated a decades-long accord between the university and the government, which prohibits police from entering campus without first coordinating with university authorities. The accord also requires police to be accompanied by university personnel, which they were not at the time of Flores’ arrest. Her arrest also raised academic freedom concerns due to her highly visible role in campus union activities and recent reports of faculty and students facing harassment and intimidation.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the apparently arbitrary arrest of a scholar and the unlawful entry of police on a higher education campus. State authorities have a responsibility to respect institutional autonomy and academic freedom, including by honoring agreements relating to the presence of state security forces on campuses and by refraining from actions that may intimidate or deter the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association.