UP library studies faculty: Removal of 'subversive' readings is censorship

UP library studies faculty: Removal of 'subversive' readings is censorship
Gonzalez Hall, or the UP Main Library in the Diliman campus. Photo by Misael Bacani, UP MPRO.
University of the Philippines

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 10 p.m) — Attempts to remove supposedly subversive materials from school libraries are a form of censorship and go against librarians' roles in promoting intellectual freedom, the dean of the UP School of Library and Information Studies said.

According to a report on Rappler, the Commission on Higher Education-Cordillera Administrative Region is urging higher education institutions in the region to remove materials "that contain pervasive ideologies of the Communist-Terrorist Groups (CTGs)" from ther libraries. CTG is the government term for the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front.

"Removing materials from the libraries which are deemed 'subversive' is an assault [on] our students’ right to read and right to information which are all components of intellectual freedom and are essential components of a democratic citizenry," Assistant Professor Mary Grace Golfo-Barcelona said in an exchange with Philstar.com.

She said that allowing censorship of a library collection would be harmful to students, librarians and the libraries themselves. By removing materials because of their ideological content, students "are deprived of their right to read, right to information, basically their freedom to information." 

According to CHED-CAR, the materials need to be removed because these would radicalize students. But Golfo-Barcelona stressed that it "is wrong to believe that you become what you read."

She said that an individual's character is formed not just by the information they have access to "but by the totality of all the student’s environment, upbringing and experience."

Including supposedly subversive materials in library collections is "meant to clarify, to develop understanding, and as support to academic exercises but [is] not meant to influence them to adhere to certain ideologies, beliefs, or practice," she also said.

She added that "book banning, and censorship are not the solutions, instead, a more holistic and inclusive approach should be adopted to solve a systemic problem."

UP SLIS faculty: Open access to information good for democracy

In an October 6 statement in response to the pull out of "subversive" materials, the UP SLIS faculty said they oppose the removal of the books and "similar acts of book banning based on prejudiced judgments."

They said that libraries provide access to different points of view, which helps democracy.

"If we are to be truly free and democratic, we allow our citizens to have free and open access to information for them to critically think about their decisions and fully participate in democratic processes and uphold human rights and social justice, all of which are embedded in our constitution," they said.

They said that banning books will not end armed conflict, calling the government anti-communist task force's drive to purge so-called subversive books unfortunate for underestimating "the intellect of the Filipino readers."

"It is insulting how they undervalue our capability as critical thinkers participating in a democratic society," they also said.

Librarians have duty to resist censorship

Dean Golfo-Barcelona said that librarians "have a role to develop the intellectual capacity of the whole citizenry. As such, part of our Code of Ethics, specifically states that we, librarians should resist all forms of censorship." 

Librarians, who are required to take professional board exams, pledge "that even under threat, we will strive for the freedom to read and for the other basic freedoms inherent in a democracy," she also said.

The Code of Ethics for Registered Librarians, approved by the Professional Regulation Commission in 1992 holds that "librarians should help to create and maintain conditions under which scholarship can exist like freedom of inquiry, of thought and of expression." 

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions meanwhile holds in its Code of Ethics for Librarians and other Information Workers that "librarians and other information workers reject the denial and restriction of access to information and ideas most particularly through censorship whether by states, governments, or religious or civil society institutions."

UP SLIS is a Commission on Higher Education-certified Center of Excellence, which means it "continuously demonstrates excellent performance in the areas of instruction, research and publication, extension and linkages and institutional qualifications."

In their statement, the UP SLIS faculty called on educators, librarians, information professionals "and all who believe and value libraries as bastions of democracy, and all those who value freedom, to take a stand and protect our libraries from all forms of censorship and all acts of book banning." 

Karapatan: Assault on academic freedom as state policy

In a separate statement this week, rights group Karapatan said the CHED-CAR memo "makes it very clear that this brazen attack on academic freedom is a State policy" directed by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict. 

"The NTF-ELCAC is gearing for an insidious campaign of censorship through the purging of ‘subversive’ materials from the libraries of schools and universities — recalling the horrors of the Marcos dictatorship’s raids on libraries and even the book burnings of the Nazis," Karapatan Secretary-General Cristina Palabay said. 

"CHED-CAR should be ashamed of themselves for betraying their mandate to protect academic freedom by becoming willing agents of the NTF-ELCAC’s abominable attacks." 

The CHED-CAR memo, issued by regional director Demetrio Anduyan Jr., was released after three state universities in September pulled out materials related to the peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the NDF as well as other "subversive" materials from their libraries, Karapatan said. 

The documents — surrendered by Kalinga State University in Tabuk City, Isabela State University in Isabela City, and Aklan State University in Banga — were then turned over to either the military, the regional ELCAC body, or the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency.

Why does this matter? 

Republic Act No. 7722, the law that established CHED in 1994, opens with a declaration that the state "shall ensure and protect academic freedom and shall promote its exercise and observance for the continuing intellectual growth." 

Section 13 of the same law guarantees academic freedom in universities and colleges. 

Palabay said that the memo's "broad and arbitrary definition of ‘subversive materials’ sets a perilous justification to not only pull out publications tagged as such but to surveil academics, scholars, authors, teachers, and students who read, write, and use them." 

"We strongly call on schools, universities, and libraries to denounce and resist these attacks on academic freedom and to safeguard free academic discourse in their halls." — Bella Perez-Rubio with Jonathan de Santos

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