Lagman seeks House probe on KWF's ban on 'subversive' books

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 15 2022 07:22 PM

Albay First District Rep. Edcel Lagman has filed a House resolution seeking a congressional investigation into a government commission's ban on allegedly subversive books.

House Resolution 239 seeks calls on the Committee on Human Rights, Committee on Basic Education and Culture, and the Committee on Higher and Technical Education to jointly investigate in aid of legislation what Lagman called the "unauthorized and illegal issuance" of Memorandum No. 2022-0663 dated August 9, 2022 by the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF).

The five books are: “Teatro Pulitikal Dos” by Malou Jacob, “Kalatas: Mga Kuwentong Bayan at Kuwentong Buhay” by Rommel Rodriguez, “Tawid-diwa sa Pananagisag ni Bienvenido Lumbera: Ang Bayan, ang Manunulat, at ang Magasing Sagisag sa Imahinatibong Yugto ng Batas Militar 1975-1979” by Dexter Cayanes, “May Hadlang ang Umaga” by Don Pagusara, and “Labas: Mga Palabas sa Labas ng Sentro” by Reuel Aguila.

Lagman said the Bill of Rights under Article III of the Constitution unequivocally provides that "No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press." 

He added that Section 5(2) of Article XIV of the Constitution provides that “academic freedom shall be enjoyed in all institutions of higher learning."

"The said (KWF) memorandum is a patently unconstitutional edict, an obtrusive weapon of thought control, an unmitigated censorship and a wanton assault on academic freedom," Lagman said in his resolution.

Lagman said the KWF has no power and is not authorized under R.A. No. 7104, its enabling statute, to ban and censor writings in Filipino. 

He said the controversial memorandum was signed only by the two full-time commissioners namely, Commissioners Carmelita Abdurahman and Benjamin Mendillo, out of 11 commissioners including KWF Chairman Arthur Casanova.

"The memorandum does not have the conformity of the requisite majority of the Commissioners and it does not even have the imprimatur of the chairman," the resolution said.

Lagman said the commission itself has published three of the five books, namely: “Teatro Pulitikal Dos” by Malou Jacob; “Kalatas: Mga Kuwentong Bayan at Kuwentong Buhay” by Rommel Rodriguez; and “May Hadlang ang Umaga” by Don Pagusara.

He said the action of the KWF of banning the subject books for purportedly violating Section 9 of R.A. No. 11479 on “inciting to commit terrorism” is an unwarranted sanction by an unauthorized agency without trial and due process.

In a related privileged speech Monday afternoon during the plenary session, Lagman also said the order is unconstitutional.

He explained that curtailing free speech can only be done when there is clear and present danger.

"Consequently, as held by the Supreme Court in Chavez vs. Gonzalez, 'any attempt to restrict it must be met with an examination so critical that only a danger that is clear and present would be allowed to curtail it,'" Lagman said.

He urged the commission to withdraw the memorandum, as he listed the following suggested remedies:

1. The majority of the Commission can motu propio withdraw the Memorandum.

2. The Office of the President, to which the KFW is under by provision of law, can order the nullification and withdrawal of the Memorandum.

3. Judicial recourse can be availed of by an interested party by filing a Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court with a prayer for a temporary restraining order.

A member of the Makabayan Bloc also spoke out against the memorandum.

"Malinaw sa Resolusyong ito ang tunay na motibo ng book purge: Sa pananaw ng limang pumirma, sila Carmelita Abdurahman, Benjamin Mendillo, Angela Lorenzana, Alain Russ Dimzon, at Hope Yu, ang mga libro ay may 'subversive themes, explicit anti-Marcos and anti-Duterte contents,' at ang mga akda ay tinukoy bilang 'radical manuscripts,'" ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro said.

Castro deplored that the incident occurred as the country marks Filipino Language Month this month. 

"Mantakin ninyo, mga Kamambabatas, na sa Buwan ng Wika pa talaga pilit pinutol ang mahigpit na ugnayan ng wika at lipunan. Mantakin ninyo, na ilang buwan lang ang lumipas matapos ipalimbag at ipaimprenta ng KWF ang mga librong ito, ay ipatitigil ng KWF mismo ang kanilang diseminasyon. Pinagbintangan ang sariling mga pinalimbag, tinuring na krimen ang kritisismo, na kasalanan ang katotohanan. Ang dapat na taliba ng wika, umakto bilang Board of Censors," Castro said.

Castro said she will go after the commission when its officials face the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

"Dapat magpaliwanag ng KWF, laluna ng mga pumirmang komisyoner, at ng NTF-ELCAC: Ano ang kinakatakot ninyo sa mga tula, dula, at prosa? Sa mga pahinang nagbubukas sa mambabasa sa mga mundong kathambuhay-ngunit-katotohanan? Nasaan ang subersyon o rebelyon sa paglalathala ng katotohanan ukol sa batas militar at paghihirap na dinanas ng mga Pilipino sa ilalim nito? Bakit ninyo pilit na ibinabalik ang bansa sa panahon ng sensura, sa madilim at madugong panahon ng binusalang mga labi at ginapos na kamay-panulat?" Castro added.