Freedom of thought in the Philippines is under attack. Multiple state university libraries in the country have removed materials deemed “subversive” by the Republic of the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte government through the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC). These attacks on library collections are part of larger attacks on Filipino activists, political thinkers, and human rights defenders, who are labeled as “communists” by the NTF-ELCAC and face trumped up charges, illegal arrest, and violence from the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine police.
As future librarians, the UBC chapter of the Progressive Librarians Guild (PLG at UBC) sees the removal of such materials as an attack on democracy itself. We stand in solidarity with Filipino librarians who have refused to cooperate with the NTF-ELCAC’s authoritarian measures, and the masses on the ground who persevere through daily assaults from the fascist Duterte government.
Many members of PLG at UBC have chosen librarianship as a profession because we believe in the power of free and open access to information. We are enthusiasts of academic and intellectual freedom, and the flourishing of ideas they facilitate. As such, this overt attack on freedom of speech alarms us, both because it aims to dismantle those essential functions of libraries in the Philippines, and because we recognize a parallel to profit-motivated censorship happening here in Canadian libraries.
Workers in libraries across Canada face growing precarity due to the neoliberal economic system which routinely cuts library budgets in the name of cost savings. Library unions are weakened or nonexistent; students and new professionals are concerned with surviving on part-time hours and stagnant pay. Many have left the field altogether. Library buildings themselves languish in disrepair despite their status as literal places of refuge for their communities (particularly rural ones, as shown during the summer 2021 heatwave in the Pacific Northwest), leaving them unable to properly house materials let alone community members.
The library and archival fields are dominated by a colonial system that benefits from hypocrisy and censorship. Librarians across North America talk about principles of representation, equity, and accessibility, but white library workers who claim to uphold racial justice professionally profit from the work of IBPOC workers. The Canadian government uses archival censorship and a deliberate misrepresentation of relations with Indigenous peoples to further the settler-colonial project, such as by rewriting the terms of historic treaties like the Haldimand Proclamation and limiting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s access to records from residential schools. Police in urban areas across Canada use “carding” or “street checks” to gather data about and disproportionately surveil Indigenous and Black people, yet release little information to support transparency or accountability.
All of this contributes to an environment where public access to information is limited by a for-profit system.
As the Canadian state opposes freedom of information within its national boundaries, it directly benefits from the repression of freedom of speech abroad. In the Philippines, activists fighting against Canadian mining companies’ human rights abuses are the ones targeted by the NTF-ELCAC and state censorship. People leaving the country to escape the conditions of political terror and poverty created by the Duterte government are exploited in underpaid frontline fields in Canada, contributing to their precarity.
Access to materials that foster freedom of thought, diversity of ideas, and a clearer view of our histories is essential to resisting this unjust system. Libraries can be tools of liberation just as much as tools of subjugation. We stand against state censorship as an enemy of liberation no matter where it happens in the world.
PLG at UBC calls on our colleagues in the field to recognize the true danger of political repression; to speak out against censorship and violence in libraries and archives; and to support people and organizations struggling for liberation around the world. We must stand united in our fight against global imperialism and fascism, as authoritarian dictators attempt to repress progressive political action. We repeat Filipino activist Karl Castro’s calls:
No to NTF-ELCAC’s removal of books from our libraries!
Defend freedom of thought and academic freedom!
Defend the unending pursuit of knowledge!
Assert democracy, oppose authoritarianism!
Hands off our schools and libraries!
Sign the public statement against censorship.