CHED-CAR’s memo to purge “subversive” materials from libraries a brazen attack on academic freedom

Photo by Lucky Dela Rosa/Philippine Collegian

The memorandum of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED)’s regional office in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) calling on universities and colleges in the region to remove “subversive” books and materials “makes it very clear that this brazen attack on academic freedom is a State policy” directed by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), human rights watchdog Karapatan said on Tuesday.

“The NTF-ELCAC is gearing for an insidious campaign of censorship through the purging of ‘subversive’ materials from the libraries of schools and universities— recalling the horrors of the Marcos dictatorship’s raids on libraries and even the book burnings of the Nazis. CHED-CAR should be ashamed of themselves for betraying their mandate to protect academic freedom by becoming willing agents of the NTF-ELCAC’s abominable attacks,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated.

CHED-CAR’s Regional Memorandum Order No. 113, dated October 21, encouraged higher education institutions to join the “region-wide removal of subversive materials both in libraries and online platforms” in support of the NTF-ELCAC’s whole-of-nation counterinsurgency campaign. It referred to “subversive materials” as “items that contain pervasive ideologies of the Communist-Terrorist Groups” which should be turned over to the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA).

Palabay averred that “this campaign of book purging and online censorship incites a chilling effect and opens a slippery slope to clamp down on the public’s right to access information and suppress the freedom of academic inquiry and thought.” The Karapatan official continued that the memorandum directly runs counter to CHED’s own mandate to “guarantee and protect academic freedom” pursuant to Republic Act No. 7722.

“What will the CHED and NTF-ELCAC do next — name books and websites to be banned and authors to be blacklisted for ‘subversive’ and ‘communist-terrorist ideologies?’ Will they raid the libraries of schools who refuse to join their campaign? The memorandum’s broad and arbitrary definition of ‘subversive materials’ sets a perilous justification to not only pull-out publications tagged as such but to surveil academics, scholars, authors, teachers, and students who read, write, and use them,” she said.

The memorandum came after three State universities — the Kalinga State University in Tabuk City, the Isabela State University, and the Aklan State University in Banga — pulled out last month documents and publications related to the peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines as well as other “subversive” materials from their libraries, which were then turned over to either the military, the regional ELCAC body, or NICA.

“The NTF-ELCAC wants to bring its militarist agenda and brand of State terror in the academe especially in school libraries, which should be bulwarks of unrestricted access to knowledge. We strongly call on schools, universities, and libraries to denounce and resist these attacks on academic freedom and to safeguard free academic discourse in their halls. Furthermore, the NTF-ELCAC’s campaign on censorship and repression has no place in a democratic society and it should be abolished,” Palabay ended.