SEVERAL groups condemned Wednesday, March 23, the red-tagging of two local independent bookstores in Metro Manila whose signages and walls were splashed with red paint and anti-communist messages.

Vandalized Monday night, March 21, or the early morning of Tuesday, March 22, were the Solidaridad Bookshop on Padre Faura Street in Ermita, Manila and Popular Bookstore on Morato Avenue in Diliman, Quezon City.

The Philippine Center of the International PEN (Poets & Playwrights, Essayists, Novelists) called on authorities to investigate the incidents, saying: “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 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 said.

“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,” it added.

The group said bookstores are “channels of free expression and free opinion that are fundamental to the health and well-being of a democracy.”

“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,” it said in a statement.

“Ideological tagging and the violence of political partisanship achieve nothing but silence the bookstores, and even drive them out of business,” it added.

The Congress of Teachers/Educators for Nationalism and Democracy (Contend), an organization of progressive faculty and academic staff at the University of the Philippines, also condemned the defacement of Popular Bookstore and Solidaridad Bookshop.

It said the defacement is clearly another attack on academic freedom and critical thinking.

“The hostile environment against learning appears to be the handiwork of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac), the same state entity that instigated the pullout of progressive books in some libraries since 2021,” it said.

“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!” it said.

Another group, Academics Unite for Democracy and Human Rights (ADHR), joined the call for an investigation on the incidents, saying “bookstore shelves are snapshots of how a nation thinks at every moment of its history. Bookstores with shelves empty of books or filled only with books containing a single idea or no ideas whatsoever reflect a nation’s deep intellectual poverty.”

“The worst thing, however, is that these vandals want a Philippines without any real bookstores at all. If we do not loudly raise our voices against this new atrocity, we will become a nation that truly and genuinely deserves only sellers of inspirational books, pens, and blank stationery. Let’s defend our schools, libraries and bookstores from all attacks against academic and intellectual freedom!” it added.

The ADHR is an alliance of professors, researchers, university administrators and education professionals from the country’s leading universities.

It is the initiator of the “Aswang sa Aklatan” online repository of books under attack by the Duterte government.

Savage Mind: Arts, Books, Cinema, an independent bookstore in Naga City, also condemned the red-tagging, stressing “a single ideology does not define a bookstore or a library, for that matter.”

“Books are part of education and nation-building. Remove access to them and you have a population poorer in terms of education. We stand in solidarity with all centers and venues that encourage reading and writing. We stand for Freedom. We fight for Literacy and Critical Thinking. We, with the rest of those who believe in the power of knowledge, call for the government to provide a safe space where the right to read, write and think is safeguarded and encouraged,” it said.

The defacement of Popular Bookstore and Solidaridad Bookshop was reportedly Tuesday, March 22, after the management of the two bookshops announced it.

In a Facebook post Tuesday, March 22, the management of Popular Bookstore said the anti-communist messages greeted them Tuesday morning as they opened the store.

“Our reaction was not fear. It was more of dismay and exasperation. 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,” it said.

22 March 2022 As we opened our store this morning, this message greeted us (see pix). Our reaction was not fear. It was...

Posted by Popular Bookstore on Monday, March 21, 2022


“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.

Popular Bookstore was founded in 1945 by anti-Marcos businessman Joaquin Po Sr.

Solidaridad Bookshop, on the other hand, was owned by the late National Artist for Literature, F. Sionil Jose. (SunStar Philippines)