Philippines: ‘Communist’ book bans raise new censorship fears

Independent authors and book publishers in the Philippines are coming under pressure for alleged ties to the country’s Communist Party and for criticizing the government.

In August, the Commission on the Filipino Language (KWF) issued a memorandum calling for the removal of books containing “subversive, anti-Marcos and anti-Duterte contents” from public libraries.

The statement refers to former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, and his successor, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., both of whom have pursued hard-line policies towards the media.

The KWF statement alleged its own chairman, Arthur Casanova, had approved the books without its consent, saying it publishes books focused on “linguistics, grammar and ethnography.”

The board of commissioners called Casanova’s actions “illegal” and an “attack on the government.” It added Casanova should be held responsible for “wasting taxpayers’ money and inciting rebellion.”

Casanova responded, warning that labeling books “subversive” is a “dangerous accusation which may already be stepping on the boundaries of freedom of expression and academic freedom.”

In another case, a recent video posted on a pro-Marcos YouTube channel by Lorraine Badoy, the former head of a task force to end “Communist insurgency,” tagged more than a dozen books by Filipino authors as anti-government because they included references written by the Communist Party of the Philippines.

The channel, SMNI News, has over 1.2 million subscribers.

In response, concerned citizens have taken to Twitter under the #HandsOffOurLibraries hashtag and set up a website documenting a “book censorship spree” across different provinces.

Dexter Cayanes, one of the authors who was red-tagged, said it he is falling victim to “certain political interests.”

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Famous banned books over the decades A book about book burning This 1953 dystopian novel by Ray Bradbury tells of an American society of the future where books are outlawed — and burnt if discovered. In the 1990s one US school district refused for the use of the word “goddamn.” It has also been challenged on the basis of “questionable themes” like censorship, repression and religion. It is often regarded as one of Bradbury’s best works.

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Famous banned books over the decades An anti-family children’s book “And Tango makes Three” is based on the true story of two male penguins in a New York zoo who raise a chick together. Pro-family organisations and individuals in the US criticized it and called for its censorship for being “anti-ethnic” and “anti-family” to “unsuited to age group.” In Singapore, where homosexuality is illegal, it was first pulled from libraries but later moved to ‘adult’ sections.

Famous banned books over the decades Not banned in the US In Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel “Lolita” is about a middle-aged college professor who is obsessed with a twelve-year-old daughter whom he sexually exploits. In today’s plain language, he’s a pedophile. Unsurprisingly, it was banned as obscene over different periods in France, England, Argentina and New Zealand. Shockingly, it wasn’t banned in the United States, though it was challenged.

Famous banned books over the decades A blanket ban His debut, the 1987 short-story collection “Stick Out Your Tongue,” highlighted the brutal Chinese occupation of Tibet. The government condemned the book as “spiritual pollution” and permanently banned Ma’s books from the country. Ma himself was banned from China after the publication of his 2013 novel, “The Dark Road,” about the impact of the nation’s one-child policy.

Famous banned books over the decades Airing inconvenient truths Said to be the most-challenged book in the US from 2010 to 2019, Publishers Weekly described this YA novel as the “Native American equivalent of ‘Angela’s Ashes,’ a coming-of-age story so well observed that its very rootedness in one specific culture is also what lends it universality, and so emotionally honest that the humor almost always proves painful.”

Famous banned books over the decades Nobel laureate who will not be silenced Lawyer Shirin Ebadi was one of Iran’s first female judges. After the 1979 revolution, she was dismissed from her position. Ebadi opened a legal practice and began defending people who were being persecuted by the authorities. Despite being the first female peace prize laureate from the Islamic world, her memoir “Iran Awakening” is banned in her native country for its political content.

Famous banned books over the decades Enforcing racial stereotypes Despite being acknowledged as one of the best American novels ever written, Mark Twain’s 1884 novel “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is frequently challenged in the US over its depiction of racial stereotypes. The N-word is used 242 times in the novel, leading one administrator to brand it the “most grotesque example of racism I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Famous banned books over the decades (In)famous ban backtrack Famed Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei’s “Dialogue on the Two World Systems” published in 1632 was originally banned by the Catholic Church for suggesting that the earth orbited the sun, and he was accused of heresy back then. It wasn’t until 1822 that this ban was lifted and finally in 1992, Pope John Paul II and the the Pontifical Academy of Sciences officially declared that Galileo was right. Author: Brenda Haas

Scale of crackdown ‘alarming’

Last year, a Philippine government task force to “end local Communist armed conflict” cooperated with the military on the removal of books considered anti-government from libraries in state-run academic institutions.

Most of the books in questiondocumented the Communist insurgency in the Philippines and peace negotiations with the Communist Party.

La Solidaridad is an iconic, independent bookstore in Manila, which is a popular hang-out for writers and literary enthusiasts. After the task force began its work, the store was vandalized with red paint, ostensibly marking it as part of the “Communist” movement in the Philippines.

Tonet Jose, who owns and manages La Solidaridad, told DW that while he is not a stranger to state repression of freedom of expression, the magnitude of the government crackdown is alarming.

“But I still see hope. After the news of the book ban came out, a lot of people came into the store looking to buy copies of the banned titles,” Jose said.

Whitewashing history of Marcos dictatorship?

Earlier this year, the head of the national intelligence agency accused children’s book publisher Adarna House of subtly “radicalizing” Filipino youth. Adarna House had bundled a collection of children’s storybooks about the martial law era and the brutal dictatorship of the current president’s father, Ferdinand Marcos, Sr.

The curated collection was in response to public demand for books that would educate the younger generation of Filipinos about the crime and corruption during the Philippines’ two-decades long military rule.

On September 21, the Philippines marks the 50th anniversary of the declaration of martial law, an era which lasted from 1972 until 1981 and saw thousands of activists killed or jailed.

Several reports have shown that a massive and well-orchestrated disinformation campaign by the Marcoses was crucial in influencing public opinion and securing the presidency for the late dictator’s son.

Philippines whitewashes history as Marcos Jr. takes office

Recently, a pro-Marcos movie was produced portraying the Marcoses as victims of the 1986 peaceful People’s Power Revolution that ousted them from power.

Documentary filmmaker Alyx Arumpac, told DW that filmmaking has the power to influence the opinion wide audiences, and both sides of an issue use the medium to get complex messages across.

“This type of storytelling can also be an effective tool at countering the myths that the Marcoses have built for themselves,” Arumpac told DW.

“Documentary films hold memories and evidence. In that sense, a documentary film serves as a clear record of the past. And that record will stand for decades to come,” she said.

Arumpac’s film “ASWANG” documented the brutalities of the Duterte Administration’s drug war.

It enjoyed a wide viewing and won accolades worldwide. Arumpac has not been red-tagged but has been barraged by online threats of rape and death since the release of her movie.

A turning point for culture in the Philippines

Authors, academics and human rights activists warn an entire state machinery is being implemented to target dissent.

Cristina Palabay, secretary general of human rights group Karapatan, said in a recent statement that the state-sponsored crackdown on books is an attempt to “deny the public of much-needed literature and materials encouraging critical thinking and knowledge on Filipino history and language.”

Faye Cura, founder of independent feminist book publishing collective Gantala Press, told DW that the intensity of the state’s attacks is an indication of how much the government is threatened by the a cultural movement fighting against historical revisionism and disinformation.

“Even more so now, cultural workers must resist all forms of censorship and the silencing of people,” said Cura.

Edited by: Wesley Rahn