On June 22, 2013, the Philippine Daily Inquirer published a paid advertisement entitled “Professional Scientific Societies Support Bt Talong Field Trials. UPLB Will Ask the Court of Appeals to Reconsider its Decision to Stop the Field Trials of Bt Talong.”

The signatories claimed that the court ruling “was against academic freedom...” without explaining what aspects of academic freedom was violated, and how such ruling can be construed as violative of academic freedom and why. Ostensibly, the signatories consider restrictions to conduct their research on Bt eggplant, despite the potential likelihood of serious and irreversible harm to health and the environment, as an assault on their “academic freedom”. This claim is utterly preposterous.

Academic freedom is not absolute. The “academic freedom” invoked by the signatories ends where fundamental human rights begin. Considerations of “academic freedom”, in this case, freedom to do field trial research on Bt eggplant, is nowhere as important as considerations of health and environment. The right to health and to a healthful environment are fundamental rights that “academic freedom” cannot supersede. Whatever benefits that might result from the research cannot weigh more than the potential harm it may cause. The Court of Appeals ruling applied the precautionary principle which states that “a human activity, project or program, wherein science has not yet arrived at any consensus of its safety, the government, specifically the regulator must take precautionary measures, must undertake preventive measures as to avoid or prevent or mitigate threats to health or to the environment”. If the signatories get what they want, the principle of precaution will fall by the wayside and the public will face serious threats to their health and environment.

It is not the CA ruling that violates academic freedom. It is the corporate hijacking of research in the state university that is seriously undermining academic freedom. The field trial research on Bt Talong is largely directed and funded by the transnational corporation Monsanto and the faculty and researchers involved in the field trials have become mere instruments of the corporation, no longer independent researchers. The Bt Talong researchers and the professional societies backing them and blatantly promoting corporate propaganda have actually surrendered their academic freedom to their corporate patron. They no longer serve public interest but instead serve corporate interest. Academic freedom means the independent pursuit of academic excellence and scholarly work, unbiased promotion and dissemination of knowledge, and freedom to express opinions without undue interference or influence from big business or the authorities, for the benefit of the public and humanity in general. When a researcher, a professor or a student surrenders his or her independence to a corporate sponsor, he or she can no longer claim academic freedom.

The same is true with a public university which allows the intrusion of profit-oriented corporations in its academic and research programs. Corporate donation or investment in a public university such as UP is motivated by profit and “self-interest”. Intellectual property laws allow corporate donors to exercise ownership rights over patentable products despite the fact that the university's resources (human and otherwise) provide the largest contribution to the discovery or development of a marketable and patentable product. In essence, big business is socializing its research costs and privatizing the profits. Granting intellectual property rights to the corporate donor also impedes the free flow of critical information necessary for further independent research for the benefit of the people. The corporation has become the custodian of knowledge and, almost always, would not not share that knowledge to other researchers, to students or to the public. This process, therefore, results to privatization of knowledge. Such a situation is clearly against public interest and contrary to the established concepts of academic freedom.

Romeo F. Quijano, M.D. is a physician and professor of pharmacology and toxicology in the Philippines. He is also a faculty of the College of Medicine at the University of the Philippines Manila.