As the country commemorates the 50th anniversary of President Ferdinand Marcos declaring Martial Law on Sept. 21, 1972, it's business as usual for local bookstores selling books about the Marcoses and martial law.
Amid threats of disinformation and historical distortion, bookstores like Popular Bookstore, Solidaridad Bookshop and Adarna House, which were involved in incidents of red-tagging earlier this year, serve as fortresses of truth and knowledge.
According to the Commission on Human Rights, in line with German nonprofit International Peace Observers Network’s definition, red-tagging is an “act of State actors, particularly law enforcement agencies, to publicly brand individuals, groups, or institutions as…affiliated to communist or leftist terrorists.”
Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, citing a 2011 journal article, defined red-tagging in a 2015 dissenting opinion as:
“the act of labelling, branding, naming and accusing individuals and/or organizations of being left-leaning, subversives, communists or terrorists (used as) a strategy…by State agents, particularly law enforcement agencies and the military, against those perceived to be 'threats' or 'enemies of the State.'”
The independent bookstores which carry books with themes ranging from culture, classics, history, political literature, inlcuding books on martial law, were defaced on the same day with red graffiti in March this year.
Adarna House, founded by National Artist for Literature Virgilio Almario, was accused of carrying books that “subtly radicalize” the youth after it offered a discount on its five martial law titles for children.
In an interview with PhilSTAR L!fe, Popular Bookstore’s Geraldine Po urged the government to stand up to the challenge of intellectual discourse.
“Reading (Karl) Marx does not make one a communist, just as reading the bible does not make one a saint,” Geraldine said, adding that many anti-communists branding leftist ideologies as “evil” don’t even know them in the first place.
“Books on political economy and history can help readers have an educated opinion,” she added, “as well as a critical assessment and understanding of what we as a nation have gone through, where we are now, and what we need to do to improve the lives of majority of our people.”
Antonio Jose, F. Sionil’s son who manages Solidaridad Bookshop, told PhilSTAR L!fe that red-tagging is not only detrimental to the growth of a thinking public but also makes Filipinos distrust the political system.
“Bookstores are a sacred space where everyone has the right to open a book, read with the desire to learn, and have openness to diverse thinking,” Antonio said.
Six months since the bookstore was red-tagged, Geraldine said the move, apparently, served as free publicity that's most welcome for Popular Bookstore since it is a "small enterprise" that doesn't have a budget for advertisements. As far as she’s concerned, the red-tagging had no negative impact on their sales.
“The expressions of support…encouraged us to confront the challenges and continue to provide book lovers with a variety of reads,” she said.
Books on political economy and history can help readers have an educated opinion as well as a critical assessment and understanding of what we as a nation have gone through, where we are now, and what we need to do to improve the lives of majority of our people.”
More importantly, Geraldine said they received more support from patrons who are "serious readers,” including government officials who, she said, were “scandalized” by the act.
Antonio said Solidaridad Bookshop will continue to support Filipino writers and readers by being a place where they can freely share their works and ideas.
“We should continue to unite and support each other in the struggle for free thought and expression,” Geraldine also said.
PhilSTARL!fe reached out to Adarna House, but they declined to be interviewed.