By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Progressive educators said the purging of books from university libraries is a clear attack on academic freedom.
The Congress of Teachers/Educators for Nationalism and Democracy (CONTEND) issued this statement after some universities reportedly pulled out books authored by founding chairman of the Communist Party of the Philippines, Jose Maria Sison, as well as publications by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, which contain historical documents and agreements on the peace negotiations between the NDFP and the Philippine government.
CONTEND said that this act is “a brazen display of the fascist claws of the government and the military junta ruling—not just in the shadows—but in broad daylight.”
Human rights group Karapatan described the act as “tokhang” perpetrated by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict and should be stopped. Tokhang refers to the anti-drug campaign of the Duterte administration, which is characterized by extrajudicial killings and other rights abuses.
Last month, Isabela State University and Kalinga State University in Tabuk City reportedly pulled out the said publications. Aklan State University also turned over relevant and historical books and publications after the Aklan Police Provincial Office reportedly “reached out” to the university about the presence of what they described as “subversive” books in their library.
Cristina Palabay, Karapatan’s secretary general, said that “it is evident that the libraries of the three universities will not pull out books and publications on their own, but have done so because police and state forces have inspected their libraries, and told them what they deem ‘subversive’ and what should be pulled out.”
“This is tokhang, but this time, they are after books and publications. This is also similar to how the military under Marcos’ martial law raided libraries and confiscated documents they deemed subversive,” she added.
She stressed that “Libraries are democratic spaces, where information and knowledge should be unhampered.”
Palabay added that the pullout of the books and publications are not only an attack on academic freedom but also on the right to freedom of information, stressing that the materials “educate the public on the peace talks and their basic rights, as what is written in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL).”
CARHRIHL is the first agenda item in the peace talks which was agreed upon and signed both by the NDFP and the Philippine government under then President Joseph Estrada.
Part of whole-of-nation approach
In a report by Philippine News Agency (PNA), ISU president Ricmar Aquino said that the “ceremonial turnover of the books” marked the partnership of the NTF-ELCAC with colleges and universities under the whole-of-nation approach.
The whole-of-nation approach is a counterinsurgency measure under Executive Order No. 70 signed by President Duterte in 2018.
CONTEND said that this is a clear example of the “government’s whole-of-nation approach to counterinsurgency, arm-twisting state universities into forgoing its role to make safe spaces to discuss matters that concern the nation and ideas that might solve (the) crises of Philippine society.”
They also expressed alarm by what they call as “perverted reasoning” in removing the books from the library. Apparently the schools claimed that this “will mean ensuring the future of the students by providing them quality and relevant education.”
They asserted that the students have the right to know that there are ways to resolve the armed conflict in the country. The materials on peace negotiations between the NDFP and the Philippine government would ensure this.
“Instead of providing a space for students to think for themselves, universities under the pressure of the NTF-ELCAC surrender the right to read hence giving way to the government’s anti-communist hysteria,” the group said.
“What is more, it is an unconscionable assault on the mere right to read—by people who seem to not understand what reading means,” the group added pertaining to the statement of National Intelligence Coordinating Agency Regional Director Dennis Godfrey Gammad that the “books you read become part of you.”
“Most readers disagree, agree, even negotiate with books they read, unless they believe the military dictum to ‘obey first before you complain,” the group said.
In a statement, Marco Valbuena, chief information officer of the Communist Party of the Philippines, said that the pullout of books “is reminiscent of the Nazi book burning of the 1930s when literature deemed subversive and opposed to Nazism were publicly burned, an act often repeated in AFP-organized spectacles across the country.”
He added that the military and police are “brazenly stepping beyond their territory and trampling on the freedom of thought and expression.
‘They make the stupid and condescending claim of ‘protecting the youth’ as if students and their teachers have no critical faculties of thinking,” Valbuena said.
‘Defend our right to read’
Lakan Umali of CONTEND-UP meanwhile urged university administrators, librarians, and faculty to “unite to purge Duterte and his henchmen from the government and defend our right to read.”
There is also an ongoing petition online on the issue with Academics Unite for Democracy and Human Rights, he added.
Palabay said that the NTF-ELCAC may remove all materials in libraries to suppress information, “but as long as social injustice remains, the people and most especially the youth, will read, learn and seek information, as they look for analysis and answers to our current situation, different from the illusions of change and peace peddled by Duterte and his military minions.” (RTS, RVO)