Groups decry red-tagging, vandalism of two Metro Manila bookstores

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 24) — Two independent bookstores in Metro Manila were defaced on Tuesday, with the signages of both shops stained with red graffiti bearing the anti-communist messages “NPA” and “Terorista.”

The National Book Development Board and several literary groups condemned the vandalization of Popular Bookstore in Tomas Morato Ave., Quezon City, and La Solidaridad Bookshop in Padre Faura St., Manila, expressing concern over its possible effects on the current political climate in the country.

On Wednesday, the NBDB released a statement denouncing the ‘vicious’ acts committed by unknown vandals.

“The National Book Development Board is extremely concerned over the acts of vandalism on the two Philippine bookstores that recently made the news. We along with our friends and partners in book publishing condemn in the strongest terms these vicious acts,” NBDB wrote.

The NBDB noted that the incident was a gross disrespect to the memory of the late owner of La Solidaridad, National Artist Francisco Sionil Jose.

"Books open mind and change worlds. Reading encourages people to think critically, exchange views properly, and make better choices. Threatening and maliciously labeling bookstores would only be of great disservice to the national good," the NBDB elaborated

The Philippine Center of International PEN (Poets & Playwrights, Essayists, Novelists) also released a statement deploring the acts.

“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,” the group stated.

It also mentioned that bookstores serve as channels of free expression and free opinion which are fundamental to the health and well-being of democracy.

“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,” it concluded.

In the same light, the University of the Philippines Faculty criticized the acts as “another attack on academic freedom and critical thinking.”

The state university educators pointed out that the hostile environment being perpetrated may perhaps be the handiwork of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), which is the same state entity that instigated the pullout of progressive books in some libraries since 2021.

“As book buyers and authors, we stand behind independent bookstores who served generations of students and writers in the Philippines. The upcoming election is a decisive time to end the current administration’s fascism that wastes the people's money on bogus agencies such as the NTF-ELCAC. Let us reiterate our call to defend our academic freedom!” the UP Faculty reminded.

The news of Popular Bookstore getting vandalized made it to local news on Tuesday, and raised concern over the country’s democratic values.

The Popular Bookstore shared through a Facebook post a photo of its defaced signage, with words sprayed in bold red saying “NPA TERRORISTA.”

"As we opened our store this morning, this message greeted us. Our reaction was not fear. It was more of dismay and exasperation,” the management wrote on its post Tuesday.

“Books are not bullets and bombs. Books are for education and enlightenment. It is a repository of history and culture. It is what differentiates humankind from animals. To those responsible for this philistine act, we would like to reiterate that POPULAR BOOKSTORE is a Bookseller to Booklovers (obviously, you don't belong),” it added.

On the same day, journalist Joel Pablo Salud shared photos on social media of anti-communist vandalism on the signage of the F. Sionil Jose-owned La Solidaridad Bookshop in Manila.

Popular Bookstore, true to its name, is a well-known bookstore which features rare books, as well as political literature.

La Solidaridad Bookshop is even dubbed as “the best little bookstore in Asia.” It features works by the late Jose, as well as that of Jose Rizal, Nick Joaquin, Paz Marquez, Gilda Cordero-Fernando, Bienvenido Santos, Lualhati Bautista, among others.