You would think that book burning is something that’s already part of history, as it conjures images of crowds gathered in frenzy before a huge pile of books up in flames deemed as contrary to Adolf Hitler’s vision of a superior Aryan race.
That vision, as we know, led to the extermination of some six million Jews during the Second World War.
Something akin to book-burning is what’s taking place here, more than eight decades later, as certain quarters try to whip up an anti-Red hysteria and purge libraries of books considered “subversive” or pro-communist or tending to incite rebellion against the government.
Last week, the Komisyon ng Wikang Pambansa (KWP) stopped the printing of five books written by Malou Jacob, Bienvenido Lumbera, Dexter Cayanes, Rommel Rodriguez, Don Pagusara and Reuel Aguila supposedly for being “subversive.”
These authors, however, are unfazed by the agency’s move to ban their books.
Rommel Rodriguez, a professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman’s Filipino and Philippine literature department, said the KWF’s decision only emboldened him further to write stories about the Filipino people.
“Censorship is my muse. The more an artist or writer is prevented from writing, the more enthusiastic we become and the more we want to write,” he said.
Don Pagusara, for his part, said the parts of the book considered subversive by the KWF were not even meant to be historical accounts. “It was fictional but based on true events that happened inside a maximum security prison at Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City.
In a joint statement, the five authors demanded that the KWF commissioners, as well as the hosts of pro-government media network SMNI who called their works subversive, recant their allegations. “What is this travesty? Their claims are libelous and would put our lives in grave danger,” they said.
National Artist for Literature Virgilio Almario, a former chair of the KWF, called on the commissioners not to involve the arts in their squabble.
“The vigor of the national language and literary freedom are among the nation’s sacred aspirations. Leave them out of the power struggle within KWF and its rotten bureaucracy,” he said in Filipino.
Arthur Casanova, the current KWF chair, defended the five books, saying they had all passed the commission’s review process.
A renowned author, educator, linguist and theater director, he said the claim the books were subversive “is a dangerous accusation which may already be stepping on the boundaries of freedom of expression and academic freedom.”
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III also decried the KWF’s move. “This is not good. Filipinos should have access to different kinds of ideas, including those of Karl Marx.”
Kabataan Rep. Raoul Manuel said the KWF’s order only proved the “chilling effect” of the anti-terrorism law, which the Supreme Court had affirmed as constitutional except for two provisions.
Project Gunita, a group that has been archiving materials on the Marcos administration, said only cowards and liars were frightened by the truth.
This is not the first time the government has cracked down on books deemed subversive.
During the previous administration, several state colleges also pulled out books they said were anti-government.
The Adarna publishing house was also recently identified as an outlet of children’s books that tended to put the government in a negative light.
The National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) claimed Adarna was attempting to “subtly radicalize” Filipino children with its books touching on the martial law era.
The virtual book-burning by the government runs counter to the freedom of expression guaranteed by the 1987 Constitution.
This must stop if we want to preserve our democratic rights and prevent our democracy from being undermined by forces opposed to contrary views and meaningful change.