Bookstores vandalized: Fingers point to NTF-Elcac
MANILA, Philippines — Are independent bookstores under siege?
Solidaridad Bookshop in Manila was vandalized on Tuesday, the same day that the Quezon City-based Popular Bookstore’s metal gate and signage were sprayed with red graffiti.
According to Solidaridad employee Cesar Quinagan, he and his coworkers discovered the signboard sprayed with red paint as they were preparing to open the store around 7 a.m.
“There were no words written,” he told the Inquirer. In the case of Popular Bookstore, the words “NPA Terorista” were spray-painted, referring to the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
Quinagan, an employee at Solidaridad for about two decades, said it was the first time it was vandalized since its establishment in 1965.
“We reported the vandalism to the barangay and we asked for the CCTV footage,” but the perpetrators were not captured on camera, he said.
Founded by the recently deceased National Artist for Literature and Philippine PEN founder F. Sionil Jose, La Solidaridad carries a wide variety of Philippine and foreign titles. It also became what Jose called a “literary salon” attended by political personalities and Filipino and foreign writers for social and political discussions.
History professor Jose Victor Torres once named Solidaridad, Popular Bookstore and Erehwon (since closed) as the “intellectual Mecca” bookstores.
‘Attack on critical thinking’
Groups expressed alarm on Wednesday over the vandalism of the two bookstores, with progressive faculty and academic staff at the University of the Philippines saying it was “no doubt another attack on academic freedom and critical thinking.”
“The hostile environment against learning appears to be the handiwork of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac), the same state entity that instigated the pullout of progressive books in some libraries since 2021,” the Congress of Teachers/Educators for Nationalism and Democracy said in a statement.
Academics Unite for Democracy and Human Rights (ADHR), an alliance of professors, researchers, university administrators and education professionals, also condemned the red-tagging of the two bookstores, pointing out that it had been difficult for these shops to sell books in the era of digital information.
“[Living] up to the vocation of selling books with heft and substance becomes even harder still when the few remaining bookstores are threatened with violence,” the ADHR said.
“Bookstore shelves are snapshots of how a nation thinks at every moment of its history,” it said, adding that shelves bereft of books or offering only books with a single idea or no ideas “reflect a nation’s deep intellectual poverty.”
Quinagan lamented that sales at Solidaridad had been badly affected by the pandemic, with the usual gatherings having to be canceled because of health protocols.
‘Best campaign plan’
The management of Popular Bookstore, founded by Joaquin Po in 1945 and carrying works by authors from both the Left and the Right, said the NTF-Elcac and its allied groups might have been behind the vandalism.
Asked to comment, NTF-Elcac spokesperson Lorraine Badoy expressed ignorance of Popular Bookstore’s existence, saying: “I don’t even know [it].”
She added: “I will not dignify this obvious CPP-NPA-NDF (National Democratic Front of the Philippines) hogwash with an intelligent response.”
According to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, the NTF-Elcac formed in December 2018 has made strides against the communist insurgency although wiping it out completely remains “a tall order.”
“I still remember … maybe four years ago when President Duterte told us to finish off [the insurgency] and to not let the next administration inherit it,” Lorenzana said in a speech at the Tuesday celebration of the Philippine Army’s 125th founding anniversary.
“So we worked hard,” he said, referring to himself, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. “We crafted [Executive Order] 70 that gave birth to the NTF-Elcac, which is actually the best campaign plan or method that we have devised in a long time.”
Lorenzana said that “because of” the task force, “we are closer [to ending the insurgency].” He said the defense establishment had expected to “finish the job” at the start of 2022, “but it is a tall order because the enemy is deeply embedded in all the sectors of society and it takes a little bit more time to neutralize them.”
Since the NTF-Elcac was formed until this month, nearly 22,000 former members of the CPP-NPA-NDF and their supporters have surrendered and joined the government reintegration program, per military records.
Progressive groups blame the NTF-Elcac for the removal of certain books and publications from some university libraries.
Last Oct. 21, Demetrio Anduyan Jr., director of the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) in the Cordillera, issued Regional Memorandum No. 113 calling on colleges and universities to take part in the “regionwide removal of subversive materials both in libraries and online platforms.”
These materials were described as “literatures, references, publications, resources and items that contain pervasive ideologies of the communist-terrorist groups.”
Anduyan said the CHEd was supportive of the Duterte administration’s “whole of nation” approach in establishing the NTF-Elcac.
He issued the memorandum after state universities in Kalinga, Isabela and Aklan purged their libraries of books and other materials related to the communist movement and the peace negotiations.
CHEd Chair Prospero de Vera III subsequently said in a statement that the state universities’ decision to remove the “subversive materials” was done “in the exercise of academic freedom.”
—WITH A REPORT FROM INQUIRER RESEARCH / SOURCE: INQUIRER ARCHIVES
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