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Freedom of thought

The biggest book industry alliance in the country has joined the voices expressing outrage over the recent move to remove “subversive” books and documents from state university libraries, warning that the purge would “raise a future generation that is ignorant and subservient.”

The Book Development Association of the Philippines, composed of 92 members and organizations engaged in the book trade including Adarna House, Anvil Publishing, National Bookstore, Ateneo de Manila University Press and the University of the Philippines Press; said the removal of books with sensitive or challenging content is a violation of freedom in publishing and freedom of thought, and impedes critical thinking and empathy.

BDAP commended UP Visayas Chancellor Clement Camposano for refusing to follow the lead of Kalinga State University, Isabela State University and Aklan State University that have purged their libraries of books and documents deemed subversive.

On October 21, the Cordillera regional office of the Commission on Higher Education issued a memorandum calling on state universities and colleges to remove “subversive” reading materials from their libraries and online platforms.

The purge of such reading materials including Marxist literature, documents on the peace negotiations between the government and the National Democratic Front, and books authored by Communist Party of the Philippines founding chair Jose Maria Sison has led to UP Diliman officials calling out CHEd Chair Prospero de Vera III for “failing to fulfill” CHEd’s mandate to defend academic freedom.

De Vera had defended the decision of state universities to remove “subversive” reading materials from their libraries. He urged UP Diliman officials to be “prudent” and “circumspect” in commenting on how other SUCs were governing themselves, especially in the supposed exercise of academic freedom whilst purging libraries of books and documents deemed subversive.

The UP Diliman University Council stood by the UP officials’ statements, saying “the removal of books based on ideological criteria is anathema to academic freedom and undermines the role of academic institutions as repositories of thought.”

“This sets a dangerous precedent and a move toward the censorship of our universities,” it added.

Book purges, especially in state universities, may be a feature in dictatorships but are supposed to be unheard of in a working democracy. It is truly cause for alarm when the government official in charge of higher education defends the act of state universities that remove books based on an ideological criteria.

Are we in danger of losing freedom of thought in this country?*

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