ANC reminds KWF of its own mandate

CHEERS TO ANC’s Dateline Philippines for reminding the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF), which had banned “subversive” books, of its own mandate. Anchor Karmina Constantino’s interview on August 12 with KWF Commissioner Benjamin Mendillo Jr. focused on the agency’s mandated role of developing the Filipino language rather than censorship — a crucial piece of information that journalists should have included in their first telling of the story.

Most media reports on the August 9 internal memorandum limited the information to what the KWF announced – that it had ordered a stop to the publication and distribution of five books it deemed “anti-government” and “inciting to commit terrorism.” One included a published thesis on the literary works of the late National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera on the Martial Law regime. Coverage also carried the views of writers and groups against the order, but ANC set itself apart by drawing out KWF’s own confusion about its duties as a commission. 

Constantino asked Mendillo whether the KWF has the authority to ban publications. And as one of the signatories of the memorandum, Mendillo argued that the decision to stop the distribution of books they red-tagged is “not a form of censorship but a measure to control.” He added ironically, “we do not censor. We just stop,” and went on to claim that KWF internal vetting processes had not been strictly followed. 

Constantino quickly cut him down, saying he was not making sense: “First you said you find these books subversive and anti-government… but now you’re telling us it’s about the internal processes, which one is it?”

Mendillo went on to make even less sense. He talked about “incidental discussions that were digging up the bigger picture of the story;” the non-following of standard procedures of publication and the “subversive” text that he said the KWF should not be publishing. He went on to elaborate without adding logic to his peroration that KWF is “not an academic institution whereby we can practice academic freedom, this is a language and research institution.”

Constantino agreed and pointed out: “exactly, it is a language and research institution, yet you’re going beyond your mandate.” She then read KWF’s mandate as written on its website which declares that ‘the commission is tasked to undertake, coordinate and promote research for the development, propagation, and preservation of Filipino as the national language of the Philippines, and other Philippine languages.’ She added “nowhere in that paragraph does it say that you can tell the public what is subversive and what is not.”

Before ending the interview, Constantino asked Mendillo to cite the exact provision in the Anti-Terrorism Law the books allegedly went against and cite any subversive parts of the books. But he could not do so. 

Mendillo’s parting statement implied that the KWF is more supportive of the Marcos administration than of the Filipino writers and readers it is meant to serve. Accusing seasoned and multi-awarded writers of subversion, and banning books only proves that the Marcoses are engaged in a systematic campaign to retell the dark history of Martial Law, and are using government resources to do it.

Constantino did what any journalist worth their salt should have done –  point out that a language commission is overreaching its powers, putting in peril Filipino writers who are  doing their work as artists and truth-tellers. Media should have pointed out from the start that free expression is protected by the Constitution. 

Journalists should be the first to protest against any effort to restrict or purge content from sources of knowledge and information.