Books and documents on the peace negotiations between the government of the Philippines (GRP) and the communist National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) have been removed from the library of a state university in the north.
Evangeline Cabello, chief librarian of the Kalinga State University (KSU) Bulanao Campus in Tabuk City, told the Inquirer on Tuesday that she pulled out the books on the NDFP after a group of policemen and soldiers came and inspected the library on Sept. 1.
“They removed the NDFP pamphlets [from the shelves] and took these with them,” Cabello told Inquirer Northern Luzon in a phone interview.
She said she decided to remove the books to “protect [the students] from being recruited to join communist groups.”
The books are being kept by the university “somewhere else,” she said.
Among others, copies of the GRP-NDFP Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) have been removed, as well as:
• The Declaration of Understanding
• The NDFP Declaration and Program of Action for the Rights, Protection, and Welfare of Children
• The GRP-NDFP Peace Negotiations Major Arguments and Joint Statements for Sept. 1, 1980-June 2018
• The GRP-NDFP Peace Negotiations Major Written Agreements and Outstanding Issues
• NDF Adherence to International Humanitarian Law: Letters to the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN Secretary General
• NDFP Adherence to International Humanitarian Law: On Prisoners of War
• Two articles on the People’s Struggles for Just Peace
• The NDFP Reciprocal Working Committee Perspectives on Social and Economic Reforms.
‘Like the Nazis did’
The regional task force to end local community armed conflict in the Cordillera has lauded the removal of the books and documents from the KSU library as part of its so-called “whole-of-nation” approach to the insurgency.
But for the rights group Karapatan, the action was part of the government’s crackdown on suspected communists and served to “restrict academic discourse and information on the peace negotiations and armed conflict in the country.”
“What’s next? Raiding and ransacking libraries and the public burning of books, like what the Nazis did? Removing documents on the peace process from a university library’s collection is absurd,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay.
“These are public documents. Some of them, such as the CARHRIHL, were signed by the government,” she said.
Palabay warned that the removal of these articles “clearly show[ed] the chilling effect of the terror law on free speech and academic freedom, such that counterterrorism effectively represses information, as well as freedom of thought and knowledge.”
She said it was also an “attack on academic freedom…that does nothing to resolve the roots of armed conflict and bring about just and lasting peace in the country.”
She called on other state universities and colleges to resist such actions and to protect academic freedom and freedom of information in their halls.
‘On my own, but…’
Cabello said she was of two minds about her action.
“I acted on my own … but with personal reservations because I think some of those books should not have been removed from the library,” she said.
The KSU president, Dr. Eduardo Bagtang, confirmed that pulling the books off the library’s shelves was Cabello’s sole decision.
He added, however, that he would review the chief librarian’s move.
Asked to comment, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (Opapp) said it was unaware of the incident at KSU, and that it had no policy of encroaching on the right of academic institutions to manage their learning activities.
“It’s their decision if they want to remove publications or books from their own library. We can’t impose anything on them,” said Wilben Mayor, Opapp assistant secretary and spokesperson.
The Inquirer also sought comment on the issue from the Commission on Higher Education but its chair, Prospero de Vera III, had yet to respond at press time.
—WITH A REPORT FROM JEANNETTE I. ANDRADE
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