The signages of two iconic Manila bookstores were reported yesterday to have been defaced with spray paint that spelled out “NPA”—which stands, of course, for New People’s Army, known as the military arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
It was Popular Bookstore, located in Tomas Morato, Quezon City, who first made it known to the public that it’s facade was graffiti-bombed. Through a status update on its Facebook page, the book shop shared pictures of its storefront with “NPA Terorista” written all over it. Later on, the 57-year-old Solidaridad bookstore in Ermita, Manila told Rappler it met the same fate.
Popular Bookstore has long held the reputation of carrying hard-to-find progressive books on politics and world affairs, while Solidaridad is known for its vast selection of Filipiniana titles.
“This is an outrage! THIS IS SICK!” said the writer Joel Pablo Salud on Facebook after finding out about what happened to Solidaridad.
“Our reaction was not fear. It was more of dismay and exasperation,” said the statement from Popular Bookstore. “Books are not bullets and bombs. Books are for education and enlightenment.” The shop thanked its patrons for their support, but to the people behind the red-tagging, it had this to say: “We would like to reiterate that POPULAR BOOKSTORE is a Bookseller to Booklovers (obviously, you don't belong).”
Meanwhile, the Philippine PEN, the writers group founded by Solidaridad founder F. Sionil Jose, issued a statement in support of the two establishments of learning, condemning the vandalism while calling on police and local authorities “to investigate the incidents and bring the perpetrators to justice.” The statement further said:
“It is sad that in the face of the alarming decrease of bookstores in a metropolitan that claims to be the educational and cultural center of the nation, two bookstores that have boldly stood, however forlorn, as fortresses of culture and enlightenment, have become targets of red-tagging and thuggery. In the most recent past, some state agents have raised the red bogey against persons or sectors expressing their mind, often to the displeasure of the powers that be; and that is why we ask local authorities and the police to urgently investigate the violence done to Solidaridad and Popular.”
The group of distinguished Filipino writers and intellectuals has always prided itself with standing in defense of freedom of expression and speech, as it did during the Marcos dictatorship. “Bookstores are channels of free expression and free opinion that are fundamental to the health and well-being of a democracy,” the group’s statement on the red-tagging further noted. “This is perhaps literarily true in the case of Solidaridad, which is also a publishing house and the home of the Philippine Center of International PEN. The PEN Club includes writers and journalists who are on either end—or on all registers — of the ideological divide. Solidaridad Bookstore carries the titles of all PEN members, whether comrade or dissenter. It also carries titles of non-PEN members. This universal fellowship of thinkers, writers, and dissenters manifests as well on the store shelves of Popular Bookstore.”
Among the leading members of Philippine PEN are fictionists Charlson Ong, Sarge Lacuesta, Eros Atalia, and Jun Cruz Reyes, National Artist Resil Mojares, poets Ricky de Ungria and Mookie Katigbak-Lacuesta, journalist and educator Lito Zulueta, essayist Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo, and publishers Karina Bolasco and Andrea Pasion Flores.
“With their liberal selection of titles, bookstores quietly but judiciously carry out debates and dialogues that keep democracy active and functioning,” the Philippine PEN statement said in closing. “Ideological tagging and the violence of political partisanship achieve nothing but silence the bookstores, and even drive them out of business. If we care deeply that we keep our democracy healthy and vibrant, then together we must condemn this criminal act of vandalism and red-tagging.”