“Censoring and banning books is a move always associated with fascism and authoritarianism, based on the desire to control and monitor the thoughts and behavior of others”
Red-tagging has reared its ugly head again, with the latest instance that of a certain former government official and some media personalities taking up their hatchet to some books published by the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF).
This latest incident of red-tagging and a subsequent memo by a couple of KWF commissioners pulling out the books are widely regarded by some cultural, education, and writers’ groups as a dick move.
The officious ex-official said on a media platform that five books, three of them published by the KWF, were “subversive” documents.
The former official, who is facing a number of red-tagging complaints, said on the media group’s platform that they would “demand that they recall it.” The media people on the same show eagerly agreed, and also red-tagged the KWF chairman and those involved with approving and releasing the books.
This criticism must have been what prompted two commissioners of the 11-member KWF Board to release, on Aug. 9, a list of so-called “subversive” and “anti-government” books that it wants banned from books and libraries, referring to the Anti-Terrorism Act (Republic Act 11479) and its provision against inciting to commit terrorism.
The decision to release this memorandum is also going down in history as an equally contemptible and ill-conceived action.
KWF Chairman Arthur Casanova said the works in question passed the proper review process.
“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 [the ones who released the memo]. I did not railroad nor force any publication,” he said.
He added that calling books “subversive” is “dangerous” as this impinges on academic freedom and freedom of expression.
Various cultural, academic, and book groups – said by one news source to number around 30 – released statements denouncing the KWF memo for promoting censorship.
Among them was the Manila Critics Circle (MCC) that gives out the annual National Book Awards, which decried the “false accusation of subversion and anti-government action” against the five books mentioned in the KWF memo.
The MCC, a group of writers and academics, also condemned the “red-tagging insinuations against the late National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera and the esteemed scholar Alice Guillermo. Such vicious branding curtails the free expression of the Filipino writer, disgraces the professional work of the Filipino scholar, and denies the Filipino people’s right to information.”
The Book Development Association of the Philippines (BDAP) said it “condemns all forms of red-tagging, banning of books, and censorship.”
It added “branding books as subversive violates our freedoms to think and express, first as human beings, and second as citizens of this democratic country protected by its Constitution.”
BDAP called the action “highly disturbing” as it “stems from a government body tasked to develop our national language and other Philippine languages,” and took a poke at the disharmony within the agency, saying, “The KWF should be a stalwart of the very freedoms that allow language and critical thinking to flourish. We expect level-headed thought and deliberation and not internal petty power struggles.”
Meanwhile 12 of the winners of the Makata ng Taon award handed out by the KWF also expressed their dismay over the agency’s internal problems and the branding of the KWF books as “subversive” by a couple of commissioners.
The poets also stated their concern that the Anti-Terror Law was used to censor the books, because this puts the authors in danger. They also called for the resignation of all the agency’s commissioners “upang ibangon ang natitirang dangal ng Komisyon.”
Censoring and banning books is a move always associated with fascism and authoritarianism, based on the desire to control and monitor the thoughts and behavior of others.
Nazi Germany and Italy instituted book-burning. The Vatican has its Index Librorum Prohibitorum. Conservative America is currently going after books on gender and race that are interpreted as going against fundamentalist Christian standards.
There are no benefits to banning books, least of all to any government.
It only makes any administration that promotes it look extremely stupid, ignorant, and cruel.
And with human nature being what it is, anything suppressed will be all the more attractive and arouse curiosity, which causes censorship to ultimately backfire.
It’s a classic shoot-themselves-in-the-foot tactic that history has shown never works. The same goes for red-tagging, which National Security Adviser Clarita Carlos has advised against, calling it “just mere labeling, which is a lazy way of thinking.”
I’ll give the last word to lawyer Ted Te, former Supreme Court spokesperson, who wrote on social media: “When your first resort is to censor thought, you already know how weak your counter-argument is. When you are so afraid of ideas that your first instinct is to ban books, then you really have a lot to be afraid of.”
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