Academics, culture orgs fight back vs KWF pulling off 'subversive' books

Academics, culture orgs fight back vs KWF pulling off 'subversive' books
Photo of the book "Kalatas: Mga Kuwentong Bayan at Kwentong Buhay" by Rommel B. Rodriguez, one of the five books KWF is removing from libraries and schools
Rommel Rodriguez on Facebook

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 1:50 p.m.) — Over 30 language, culture and educational departments panned the red-tagging of authors and some Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino commissioners’ purported order to pull out or stop the publication of at least 17 books labeled as “subversive” or “anti-government.”

The unity statement said that “reading, analyzing, scrutinizing, citing, and using any reading material, regardless of the writer and the publisher, is part of the academic freedom of writers, teachers, researchers, and all citizens.” It also urged Congress to investigate Sonshine Media Network International’s redtagging broadcasts as these violate constitutional provisions on free expression.

"Many books – be it in Filipino or English – will certainly cite or quote materials from various references, including those from groups considered by the government as subversive or revolutionary," the unity statement read. "We join calls for the immediate abolition of [National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict] and other similar red-tagging entities that curtail the people’s right to information, right to free expression, and academic freedom.”

"Such citation should not be treated as agreement or sympathy with the cited material, but rather a part of the typical academic and scholarly process of analyzing various sources. Granted for the sake of argument that a book agrees or sympathizes with a political ideology, such socially committed writing tradition is respected in the whole world and considered as an important element of any country that calls itself as democratic,” they added.

In a YouTube video, three hosts of the SMNI tagged books written by Reuel Aguila, Rommel Rodriguez, Don Pagusara, Malou Jacob, and Dexter Cayanes, and more than a dozen more books published by KWF as “subversive” allegedly because they cited references written by the CPP-NPA. 

The program also red-tagged prominent art critic Alice Guillermo and the late National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera. After the program was aired, the KWF issued a memorandum calling on schools and libraries to pull out the "subversive" books for being "anti-government." 

The KWF is the official government agency and regulating body of the Filipino language in the country and is an attached agency under the Office of the President. 

Former National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict spokesperson Lorraine Badoy is one of those behind the video. She faces at least three administrative complaints over her red-tagging of healthcare and teachers groups and the presidential campaign of former vice president Leni Robredo before the Office of the Ombudsman.

KWF chair: No truth to 'communist infiltration' narrative

In a separate statement, KWF chair Arthur Casanova categorically denied the accusations and added that calling books "subversive is a dangerous accusation which may already be stepping on the boundaries of freedom of expression and academic freedom."

"These books which are alleged to be subversive passed through the review process of the KWF. All the books underwent the usual scrutiny that all publications of the KWF must pass, including receiving the imprimatur of the other two full-time commissioners. I did not railroad nor force any publication," he said. 

"The KWF should be at the forefront of the efforts to enrich our language. Contrary to the misguided allegations, the KWF is not limited to publishing dictionaries and technical linguistic materials. Rather, we are tasked to develop and enrich the Filipino language," he added,

Casanova — who did not sign the purported KWF memorandum stopping the publication of the books — said he was willing to divulge any pertinent information at the proper forum but urged authorities "to look into these allegations and see for themselves that they are baseless and malicious."

"Echoing the words of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, the country’s language foundation must be strengthened as it will play a key role in developing our culture amid the modern times. It is unfortunate that these allegations, which are untrue and unfounded, are being used by people who are pushing their own agendas," he also said. 

Academics push back

In 2021, some libraries removed books deemed ‘subversive’ from library shelves under threat from the government's anti-insurgency task force. In their joint statement, the academics said it was the efforts of the same NTF-ELCAC that eventually paved the way for the purported KWF memo.

This is not the first time the anti-insurgency arm set its sights on the academe. Earlier, Director General Alex Paul Monteagudo of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency claimed without basis that Adarna House‘s “#NeverAgain” book bundle was part of a communist plot to “radicalize” children.

“Ang libro ko’y naglalaman ng mga akdang hinubog ng aking danas bilang manunulat. Mula ito sa kaibuturan ng aking puso na hinulma ng aking pang-araw-araw na pag-iral," Rommel Rodriguez said. He is a professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman’s Departamento ng Filipino at Panitikan ng Pilipinas and one of the red-tagged authors said in the statement.

(My book contains works shaped by my experience as a writer. It comes from the bottom of my heart molded by my daily experiences.)

"Ang bawat salita’y maingat kong hinabi upang makabuo ng pananaw na maglalatag ng mga katotohanan sa isang lipunang makitid at mapagkunwari. Ang pagsupil ng aking akda, ay pagsupil sa aking malayang paglikha. Hindi ako kailaman padadaig sa anumang pananakot sapagkat batid kong marami akong kasamang mga manunulat, artista ng bayan, manggawang pangkultura, mananaliksik, edukador, at mambabasa na nakasandig pa rin sa katuwiran, hustisya, karapatan at halaga ng pagbabago ng lipunan.”

(Every word I have carefully woven to form a perspective that will lay out the truths in a narrow and hypocritical society. The suppression of my work, is the suppression of my free creation. I will not be defeated by any threat because I know that I have many fellow writers, folk artists, cultural workers, researchers, educators, and readers who still lean on righteousness, justice, rights and the value of social change.)

Another multi-awarded and red-tagged author who was a founding member of the Davao Writers Guild, Don Pagusara, asserted that his work "May Hadlangang Umaga" is literary fiction based on real-life events.

“Ang akdang iyon ay isang dula, na ang kuwento ay natuon sa  buhay ng bilanggoan — sa Fort Bonifacio…noong mga unang taon ng Martial Law.  Specifically, 1974 -1976.  Iyong sinipi nilang bahagi ay isang ekenang dula/kung saan nag-uusap ang dalawang tauhan.  Bale, fictional na nababatay sa totoong nangyayari sa  loob ng kulungang YRC. Naisulat iyon ng mga taong 1980s…Hindi namount, ni nalathala kailanman.”

(That work is a play, whose story focuses on prison life at Fort Bonifacio during the early years of Martial Law from 1974 to 1976. The part they quoted is an accepted play/where two characters are talking. It's fictional based on what actually happens inside the YRC prison. That was written in the 1980s.)

UP Professor Ramon Guillermo, a leader of the Network in Defense of Historical Truth and Academic Freedom, pointed out that “the KWF is right in publishing books in various disciplines."

"It is not true that KWF can publish only books on languages or orthography. In the context of Filipino as our national language, the KWF is within its mandate when it publishes materials in any discipline because the intellectualization of the national language is among its main functions. Publishing cutting-edge works in every discipline is thus part of the KWF’s role in ensuring the further intellectualization of Filipino which all the more becomes important as we fight disinformation in these times.”

De La Salle University professor and Tanggol Wika convener David San Juan also asserted that labeling books as “subversive” is tantamount to censorship and an attack on academic freedom. And these have no place “in a civilized and democratic society," he said as he urged the commissioners who signed the KWF order to  withdraw their signatures in the "repressive and authoritarian order.”

“As the country commemorates the 50th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law this year, we are once again reminded that the fight against tyranny is far from over. The struggle for democracy and human rights carries on,” Tanggol Kasaysayan Convener Dr. Francis Gealogo also said. 

Progressive lawmakers: Anti-insurgency measures being used to muzzle academe, spread disinformation

House Deputy Minority Leader France Castro (ACT Teachers Partylist) in a statement sent to media called the memorandum another example of the “interference of the Anti-Terror Law and NTF-ELCAC” in the academe.

The move, she said, uses “disinformation and fake news that any literature that tells the truth and teach free and critical thinking are ‘terrorism’ and ‘enemies of the state.’”

“What's next? Widespread book-burning, gagging of teachers of political philosophy and economy, threats to writers?” she asked in Filipino.

“The ideas being censored are stories and prose that open the reader to critical thinking and tell the truth about the Marcos dictatorship and the darkness that befell the country under his martial law. They point to the urgent need to speak out and stand up for freedom and democracy.”

In a separate statement, Rep. Raoul Manuel (Kabataan Partylist) called the memo “a renewed state-sanctioned book purging drive” dating back to the Duterte administration that would only worsen the disinformation and revisionist history seeping into the country’s schools.

“The affirmation of the Anti-Terror Law by the Supreme Court paves the way for Marcos Jr. to utilize such draconian policy this time to enforce historical distortion even without a direct palace order,” his statement reads in mixed Filipino and English.

"Anti-Terror Law? More like Anti-Truth Law. This is just another reason to repeal the draconian law. It is clear that the Terror Law will worsen the disinformation and crisis in education just to benefit the family of the dictator Marcos Sr."

— with a report from James Relativo 

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