On October 21, 2021, the Commission on Higher Education Cordillera Administrative Region issued Regional Memorandum No. 113 series of 2021, encouraging “all Higher Education Institutions (HEI) in Cordillera Administrative Region… to join the region-wide removal of subversive materials both in library and online platforms.” For its purpose, the Memorandum defined “subversive materials [as] literatures, references, publications, resources and items that contain pervasive ideologies of the Communist-Terrorist groups (CTGs).” Accordingly, the Memorandum was made “in support of Executive Order No. 70 Series of 2018 “Institutionalizing the Whole-of-Nation Approach in Attaining Inclusive and Sustainable Peace, Creating the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict and in cognizance to the Third Quarter Cordillera RTF-ELCAC meeting held on September 22, 2021”.
We, the System-wide University Library Council of the University of the Philippines, strongly oppose the removal and banning of such books and materials from libraries in the CAR—and anywhere else in the country.
While the Memorandum does not 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.
As such, it threatens to undermine the very foundation of the academic freedom guaranteed by the Constitution to all institutions of higher learning, whether public or private. That 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. 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.
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.
Book 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.
Libraries serve 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.
This is especially important in this age of fake news, which 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.
We therefore call on our fellow librarians and university officials to protect our 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.
The UP System-wide University Library Council was created in December 1986 following the confirmation by the UP Board of Regents of Administrative Order No. 20. It is composed of the Vice-President for Academic Affairs as Chair with the Vice-Chancellors for Academic Affairs, the librarians of the constituent units and a student representative as members. The University Library Council and its functions are reiterated in the University Library Organic Act which the Board of Regents approved in March 1991. Administrative Order No. PDLC 2021-54, issued in September 2021, added the Assistant Vice-President for Academic Affairs (Curriculum and Instruction)—a position that did not exist in 1991—as Vice-Chair of the Council.
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