Tarred and feathered red: when scholarly texts haunt the Philippine editorial scene

It’s historically wacky because it’s no less deadly that the anti-Communist Cold War crusade and red-marking trope has gained new vigor in the present day. Our historic moment is now its most decadent when the country’s worst elite captured the reins of state by corrupting the electoral machinery of formal democracy.

By TOMAS T. TALLEDO
Bulatlat.com

I.

Lately, NTF-ELCAC staff have been working hard to earn the amount they are paid in a cult’s Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) television program studio. Their red-marking task was not a given, as they had similarly done during the reign of Rodrigo Duterte. They regularly level “terrorist/communist/enemies of the state” charges against institutions and individuals targeted for a living.

They used the weapon of massive intimidation, relying on the support of those in power and the cooperation of the armed personnel of the State. Yet such intimidating bluster is only inversely related to the temporal fear felt by citizens. Why, if fear is contagious, so is brave dissent, they answered.

The truism that the so-called “paper tigers” cannot grasp so far is “where there is oppression, there is also resistance”.

And the ploy of blaming scholarly works and authors on communists, as a danger to the status quo, is neither surprising nor novel nor novel in the history of Philippine publishing. The propaganda of anticommunism was and is a cottage industry held and maintained by mediocre minds who cannot be considered citizens of the Republic of Letters (cf. Francesco Barbaro).

If industry means “economic activity concerned with the transformation of raw materials and the manufacture of goods”, then the earnings of red-taggers accumulate in the shameless fabrication of lies that result in intimidation and shame. It is no wonder that the disappearance of government funds from the National Youth Commission (NYC) has been reported and exposed by the Commission on Audit (COA). A glaring example cited by COA, such wrongdoing has garnered national attention as a public outrage.

The minimum amount of P651,999.73 remains unexplained as NYC waltzed with the NTF-ELCAC in their so-called anti-communist campaigns . However, a much larger amount of 3 million pesos totaled by COA still not refunded when red tagger Ronaldo Cardema was with NYC from 2018 to 2021. Red tagging as a cottage industry generously rewards the unimaginative clerks and rude servants of the national task force.

II.

The fixation of anti-communism in our society reached its hysterical moment in the so-called Cold War of the 1950s. As you might expect, the red marking of books and authors was not new in history. publishing in the Philippines. In 1956, “cold warriors” Jose M. Hernandez and Simeon G. Del Rosario went public with their slander against historian Teodoro Agoncillo’s award-winning biography of Andres Bonifacio, The revolt of the masses. The notorious duo endeavored to publish an 84-page “examination” of Agoncillio’s work affirming his Marxist and therefore communist parentage. The work the duo invested in producing anti-Communist tracts will probably amuse us since Paralde, Badoy and the NTF-ELCAC factotums are now intellectually lazy in comparison.

The duo referred to their work as a “comparative presentation” (p.1) which is a simple textual juxtaposition of Agoncillo with that of classical Marxists and a number of progressive Filipino authors. They sought to smoke out the “subversive character” of Agoncillo’s “proletarian literature” (p.2). Hoping to catch on, they proclaimed their “right and duty…to clarify and explain our analysis of the [Agoncillo’s] book” (p.3). Red marking is a voluntary act of free association.

Wickedness was the usual bittersweet portion of red-taggers, they wrote: “we have no proof that Agoncillo is a member of the Communist Party” (p.3), but as a successful proletarian writer “must appear to be telling the truth even if he is lying. It is the highest mark of efficiency that this type of Marxist propaganda yeomanship can attain” (p.51). Hernandez and del Rosario casually exchanged Marxism and communism without sharp nuance, for them “they are always one in principle” (p.28).

The historian’s text has either been overread or misinterpreted as one that prognosticates favorably of the revolution in its quote: “I hope that with the data that I have included in this book, that I have interpreted, other students of the Revolution will be inspired to continue where I started from” (Hernandez & del Rosario, p.31; Agoncillo, printer’s copy p.9). This was malicious sleight of hand with honest scholarship as a preparatory project for revolution. Should a historian be held accountable when the moment for the realization of his ideas has arrived? Agoncillo, as a historian, was not at fault when he happened to find that “revolutions are the locomotives of history”.

III.

A comprehensive history of post-World War II anti-communism in the Philippines remains to be compiled. And in writing the history of the period, the active role played by the imperialist geopolitical machinations of the United States cannot be underestimated. The ideological-political nursery of Southeast Asian countries has been steeped in anti-communist tropes by the various agencies of the US government. The fabricated discourse on the cold war that divided the world has been actively cultivated to become hegemonic. Societies, peoples, institutions belong either to the so-called “free world” or to the “totalitarian/communist world” and are separated by an “iron curtain”.

Simeon del Rosario, as a cold warrior, chose the historian Agoncillo for having a subversive agenda, a specific person of interest, an example of an anti-communist crusade target. The record showed that for more than 25 years, del Rosario was “engaged in the struggle against communism, nine of them at the headquarters of the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO)” (Simeon G. Del Rosario, Commission for Countering the Communist Ideology 1967, back cover). This means that the salaried work of anticommunism did not begin with the creation of Rodrigo Duterte’s NTF-ELCAC, the roots were there then.

There was this mean or partisan choice that eliminated space for those who wanted to remain unaffiliated. Then writers like Salvador Lopez, Manuel Arguilla, Federico Mangahas, Jose Lansang who scrutinized the reality of the country’s underclass were considered pesky leftists. Inevitably, the critical historian Agoncillo was tarred red and feathered as a communist enemy of the state.

It’s historically wacky because it’s no less deadly that the anti-Communist Cold War crusade and red-marking trope has gained new vigor in the present day. Our historic moment is now its most decadent when the country’s worst elite captured the reins of state by corrupting the electoral machinery of formal democracy. The fundamental premise of a decent and convenient life will probably crumble under the prospect of long Hobbesian years. The long years of precarious living are the years we would live dangerously. And embracing knowledge will be a condition in extremis so that “those who want to enlighten must endure the burn”. (https://www.bulatlat.org)

About Florence M. Sorensen

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