UP System Library Council slams 'purging' of 'subversive' books

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THE system-wide library council of the University of Philippines (UP) has expressed its strong opposition to the decision of banning and removal of books from libraries and online platforms that the government deemed subversive, saying it "threatens to undermine" academic freedom and "book purges" are practiced by authoritarian societies.

"We, the System-wide University Library Council (ULC) of the University of the Philippines, strongly oppose the removal and banning of such books and materials from libraries in the CAR (Cordillera Administrative Region)—and anywhere else in the country," it said.

The group urged librarians and university officials to protect "libraries from any form of censorship, and to resist any actions that will compromise academic freedom."

"We need to open minds, and not to close them. Since we believe in democracy, as our critics claim to do, we must remain open to ideas not necessarily our own and respect the right of our citizens to read about them in our libraries," it said.

The group further said: "As gatekeepers of knowledge, we librarians and officials overseeing the UP System libraries are ethically bound to resist any form of political interference that would diminish the access of students and scholars to any materials they may need in pursuit of their studies."

The ULC of UP issued the statement after the Commission on Higher Education (Ched) in CAR in Luzon issued a memorandum encouraging “all Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in CAR to "join the region-wide removal of subversive materials both in library and online platforms.”

The memorandum of Ched-CAR defines "subversive materials" as "literatures, references, publications, resources and items that contain pervasive ideologies of the Communist-Terrorist groups (CTGs).” The agency issued the memorandum “in support of Executive Order No. 70 Series of 2018, which institutionalizes the Whole-of-Nation Approach in Attaining Inclusive and Sustainable Peace, Creating the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (Elcac) and in cognizance to the third quarter Cordillera Regional Task Force-Elcac meeting held on September 22, 2021.

Such move by the Ched-CAR does not force "compel librarians and heads of universities and colleges to remove books and materials perceived to contain 'subversive' ideas from their libraries, the call of a regional regulatory body for HEIs within its jurisdiction to join a region-wide movement to ban such materials has a compelling effect on the institutions it regulates," the ULC said in the statement, which was released by the UP Media and Public Relations Office on Saturday, November 6.

Academic freedom

The memorandum, the ULC said, "threatens to undermine the very foundation of the academic freedom guaranteed by the Constitution to all institutions of higher learning, whether public or private."

The academic freedom "rests on the untrammeled flow of information and knowledge contained in, among others, books, periodicals, documents, recordings, and such other media as libraries collect and distribute."

"We believe—as do our peers in other schools and departments of the University—that true learning results from the application of critical thinking to a range of ideas, and that even ideas deemed dangerous or inimical to society require critical analysis. If we are the democracy that we profess to be, then nothing can be more deleterious to that democracy than the suppression of books that contain such ideas," the group said.

The ULC said boom purges are "practiced by dictatorships, not democracies; and inevitably, book purges prove futile, as those who banned the Noli and the Fili for being subversive eventually realized. Knowledge advances not by the exclusion of ideas, but by intellectual inquiry and scientific practice. Insurgencies are contained by addressing their root causes, not by banning books that explain how and why they happen."

Ched chief's stance

Ched Chairman Prospero de Vera III issued a statement last week defending Ched-CAR's move following UP Diliman officials' criticisms.

He said the decision to remove books and other reading materials in a university library is done by individual HEIs in the "exercise of academic freedom."

"There are reasons why some HEIs have decided to remove materials donated by government-declared CTGs in their libraries. School authorities in these HEIs are in the best position to explain why. They are given sufficient administrative discretions under existing laws," de Vera said.

De Vera said the decision of other HEIs must be respected in the "spirit of mutual respect and proper governance of their institutions."

He said "there are many HEIs that are critical of the policies adopted by the UP Diliman officials and the way they run their campus but they are not issuing statements out of mutual respect for the governance of individual public universities."

Knowledge gateways

For the ULC, libraries must be protected as they serve the society as "gateways to knowledge and culture, as platforms for learning, preserving and sharing knowledge, and shaping new ideas and perspectives."

"Like our laboratories, they should be protected as safe spaces for intellectual inquiry and research, beyond the transitory agenda of politicians in power and their instrumentalities," it said.

The ULC said the proliferation of fake news "magnifies the responsibility of universities to seek and promote the truth, regardless of political consequences."

"As the repositories of knowledge, our libraries and their custodians are duty-bound to ensure that access is maintained to that knowledge in all its variety, in the service of the truth," it said.

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