Are Adarna’s Books on Martial Law “Radicalizing” Children Against the Government?

“Not good.”

I am not the type to pay attention to foreigners making content about the Philippines. (You: Oooohhh… a “I’m not like other girls” type.) But when Neil Gaiman captioned his retweet of Rappler’s news on the red-tagging of Adarna House’s sale of its books on Martial Law by sitting government officials, I was alarmed.

Adarna House was accused by Alex Paul Monteagudo of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, of “subtly” radicalizing children against the government. Lorraine Badoy of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict called the publishing company “demonyo” for allegedly “planting hate and lies” in the hearts of its young readers.

I promised my husband that I will refrain from writing about Philippine politics in this blog. But as a librarian and a reading advocate, whose love for books was influenced by Adarna House, I take offense.

The bundle consists of five illustrated storybooks that tell about Martial Law in the Philippines. Here are brief summaries of the books:

ITO ANG DIKTADURA

Idea at titik: Equipo Plantel; Guhit: Mikel Casal

A translation from Spanish, “Ito ang Diktadura” is a non-fiction illustrated book written during the times when many countries in the world are under dictatorship. It describes the general environment under these autocratic regimes and shows Ferdinand E. Marcos among other dictators.

SI JHUN-JHUN, NOONG BAGO IDEKLARA ANG BATAS MILITAR

Kuwento ni Augie Rivera; Guhit ni Brian Vallesteros

“Si Jhun-Jhun” is one of the five books that tell about different important periods in Philippine history, created in collaboration with UNICEF. It is a coming-of-age story of a boy whose family was torn apart by human rights violations.

EDSA

Kuwento ni Russell Molina; Guhit ni Sergio Bumatay III

How can a counting book ever radicalize its reader against the government? Because this just a picture book with a few words. The words are terms and phrases popularized by the People Power Revolution of 1986.

THE MAGIC ARROW

Story by Bolet Banal; Illustrations by Korinna Banal

“The Magic Arrow” is a beautifully illustrated magical story of a king who repressed his kingdom and got defeated by one man’s bravery.

ISANG HARDING PAPEL

Kuwento ni Augie Rivera; Guhit ni Rommel Joson

A personal favorite, “Isang Harding Papel” is a story of a child whose mother is a political detainee. It shows how a mother’s love can grow hope and happiness in the midst of darkness.

I am adding this short comic book although not included in the original bundle:

12:01

Russell Molina and Kajo Baldisimo

“12:01” is the story of a local band who experienced the horrors of Martial Law on a night they accidentally violated the curfew.


How are these books radicalizing children against the government? Is the Philippines:

  • in a dictatorship
  • in an abusive dictatorship
  • going to be in an abusive dictatorship

again? If not, why should the government be offended? Why should the government be afraid?

Perhaps NICA and NTF-ELCAC should listen to Imelda Marcos:

Perception is real; the truth is not.

xXx

Buttttt I digress. Instead, let us read this beautiful poem by Alberto Ríos in 2017:

DON’T GO INTO THE LIBRARY

The library is dangerous—
Don’t go in. If you do

You know what will happen.
It’s like a pet store or a bakery—

Every single time you’ll come out of there
Holding something in your arms.

Those novels with their big eyes.
And those no-nonsense, all muscle

Greyhounds and Dobermans,
All non-fiction and business,

Cuddly when they’re young,
But then the first page is turned.

The doughnut scent of it all, knowledge,
The aroma of coffee being made

In all those books, something for everyone,
The deli offerings of civilization itself.

The library is the book of books,
Its concrete and wood and glass covers

Keeping within them the very big,
Very long story of everything.

The library is dangerous, full
Of answers. If you go inside,

You may not come out
The same person who went in.

7 Filipino Children’s Books I Want for My Child’s Library

What are your favorite children’s books?

Hi, friend! Welcome and welcome back to the blog.

From stories of kapres, engkantos, and nuno sa punso to make us unruly Pinoy kids behave, to fables that instill lifelong values, to short stories, novels, and film scripts that help us face or escape our daily realities, no one can deny the power of stories and storytelling in shaping the minds and lives of people. Societies, too, grow from stories, passed on from generation to generation, and these stories shape myths and legends that define us as a people, as a nation.

I am a staunch believer in the power of stories.

In this blog, I share some of the storybooks that I want to read to my child when she is at the right age and can understand and appreciate them.


AKO AY MAY KIKI (I Have a Vagina) written by Glenda Otis and illustrated by Beth Parrocha, is a two-part children’s book that tackle genital cleanliness and body autonomy. Filipinos do not openly talk about private parts, at least with a straight face; we love to make jokes instead. Who would expect that these will appear in fiction, let alone illustrated children’s books?


AKO AY MAY TITI (I Have a Penis) (Lampara), written by Genaro Gojo-Cruz and illustrated by Beth Parrocha, came before Ako ay May Kiki and presents genital care for boys.

As a feminist parent, I feel quite capable of talking about these to my daughter without malice. But as a school librarian, I know the power books hold on children. Once they see something on print, they will know that it is important.


PAPA’S HOUSE, MAMA’S HOUSE (Adarna House) by Jean Lee C. Patindol (writer) and Mark Salvatus (illustrator) tells the story of a broken family, and how being in a broken family does not always mean children are loved less.

My husband and I have been married for only two years, and as Roman Catholics do not see ourselves separating anytime soon. (Who knows what will happen in the future? Haha.) But once our little one grows and gets exposed in the real world, she will find family set ups that are different from ours, and she will know that she has to understand and respect that.


ISANG HARDING PAPEL (Adarna), written by Augie Rivera and illustrated by Rommel Joson, tells the story of a child whose mother was a political detainee during the years of dictatorship. The book is filled with flowers and play it is actually gut-wretching. Isang Harding Papel is part of the #NeverAgain bundle put on sale by the publishing house that ended up in red-tagging by sitting government officials last May.

My husband and I were not born yet during the Martial Law years and did not experience the documented horrors and atrocities of the period. But we know that it does not mean none of those happened. We want our child to develop empathy for people who suffered from human rights violations.


DALAWA ANG DADDY NI BILLY (Billy has Two Daddies) (Tahanan) by Michael P. De Guzman (writer) and Daniel Palma Tayona (illustrator) took a decade to be published. It shows a boy with gay fathers and the ostratization their family experiences from the people who they expected to be respectful.

Homosexuality is normal, and families that are not composed of a mother, a father, and a child are normal. I want Sprout to know that we are not judging others’ sexuality. More importantly, if someday it turns out one of us has a different sexual orientation, we as family will support them.


KUNG DALAWA KAMI (If There were Two of Us) (Adarna) by Lamberto Antonio (writer) and Salvador Gernale (illustrator) is exactly the book that made me a “bad” Catholic for supporting the many different facets of reproductive health. It is about a first-born child who remnisces the more affluent time before their parents had so many children.

I know that there will be people who will ask Sprout why she is an only child, and I want her to understand the answer from my perspective.


ANG BONGGANG-BONGGANG BATANG BEKI (The Fierce and Fabulous Boy in Pink) is a story by Rhandee Garlitos and illustrated by Tokwa Salazar. It could be the first children’s story to introduce an effeminate character, and questions why we have to assign roles and characteristics in terms of gender instead of allowing people to be who they want.

I want our child to know that in our home, she is free to be who she is and enjoy the things she wants.

My Sprout is 10 months old, and she is only interested on books to chew on. I’m definitely excited for her to be at an age when we can read these stories together, but for now, I will start building a home library that will help me raise a feminist.

Bella Mackie: How to Kill Your Family (2021)

I used to think I was not like other girls because I prefer crime over romance. A study by Vicary and Fraley (2010), however, revealed that more women consume true crime books than men. I have not read the full journal article – I do not like or have spare moolah to pay right now – but it turns out I am exactly like other girls.

Whether it is to learn survival skills or in lieu of acting out revenge fantasies against the patriarchy – lol, not lol – my consumption of the true crime genre has stood the test of time. I remember being a 90s child glued to the likes of Kapag may Katwiran, Ipaglaban Mo! and Calvento Files, on free Philippine television. Sometimes, I wonder if I made the wrong decision to pursue the librarianship profession when deep in my guts I know that I want to be surrounded by blood.

Do I sound like a lunatic? Well, I would like to think I am not made to be a criminal. All my love for true crime stems from my strong sense of justice. Again, lol, not lol. In all my fantasies, I have always been the detective.

Maybe this is why I cannot empathize with the villain protagonist and narrator of Bella Mackie’s How to Kill Your Family. For me, murder is murder, regardless of who you eliminate.

The story is written through the eyes of Grace Bernard, a working class young woman whose life was screwed by the patriarchy from conception. It is a book (or is it a diary?) written during her incarceration for a murder she did not commit.

Grace lives for one purpose: to annihilate the entire family of the father who abandoned her before she was born. She orchestrates a series of ridiculous events – which, to be honest, are so unrealistic and largely dependent on luck (Grace is very lucky) and white/pretty/thin privilege – that would lead to the death of her grandparents, cousin, uncle, stepmom, stepsister, and eventually, her father. She also plans to make a claim of the family fortune and live happily ever after with a dog.

Now, I found her motivation shallow. It is just not unique. She and the Artemises were not a family. They did not have any relationship. Most of them did not have anything to do with her; they were just being themselves – entitled, out of touch, ultra-rich. I think she just needed an excuse for her need to kill.

As a character, Grace is extremely unlikable. First and foremost, she is a murderer. Then, she is a narcissist. She is judgmental and mean. She berates others and thinks she is better than everyone. She exploits people’s weaknesses and kindness. She is self-absorbed. She is a “pick-me”. She seems incapable of emotions. She is quite possibly a psychopath and in this case, could be genetic. I mean, most of us have had hard lives, but most of us do not become serial killers. It is hard to like someone who likes nothing in the world.

But her unlikability is quite possibly intentional. She is, after all, a serial killer. We, readers, are not supposed to sympathize with her. Normally in fiction, main characters have some sort of a redemption arc. Not Grace. Until the end she remains a horrible person, to the point that you think she deserves what she got – no matter how disappointing and anticlimactic in turns out.

And SPOILER ALERT, it is disappointing and anticlimactic. The whole novel is already hard to read, since our villain protagonist rambles a lot. But the last few chapters were just, I don’t know, meh. I’m probably the minority here but I liked the meh-ness of the ending. I liked it just because Grace lost and because she can’t get away with it. (I can be mean like that.) In a twisted way, that is still justice.

Of course, I allowed myself to feel a bit of sympathy for her. It is just unfair that she was the one who worked hard, only for the final act to be stolen from her. It is like toiling over a birthday cake and then you went out to change, only to come back to see your office mate singing the Happy Birthday and lighting the candle for the boss. But then Grace is possibly a psychopath so I think she kind of deserves it.

One thing positive is that the book could well be a textbook for social justice warriors. You need reasons to eat the rich? Read the book. You need to justify why you need to fvck the patriarchy? Read the book. You need to keep the flames of your anger burning? Read the book. You need reasons to make fun of influencers? Read the book. It talks about social problems. It even goes as far as recommend a list of feminist and social justice readings (which I will unfortunately have to buy because our local libraries suck).

By the way, the cover is nice. On the outside, it is pink and pretty. On the inside, it is madness and chaos. Like Grace. Like all of us, really.

Yoko Ogawa: The Memory Police (2019)

It wasn’t even darkness. There was nothing, nothing at all, no air or noise or gravity – not even me to experience them. Just overwhelming nothingness.

I finally got to write about The Memory Police. I had finished reading a couple of weeks ago but I cannot muster up the courage to write. I can’t out of fear. Out of sadness. It is not just about the book but what it means, right now.

The Memory Police tells the story of a woman who lives in a place where things disappear. Once in a while, the people in this unnamed place wake up somehow knowing that something has been “disappeared” and they must remove every physical representation of these ideas. Then, because these objects no longer existed in the real world, any memory, any attachment, any idea that they once existed eventually ceases to exist.

Or, maybe it is the other way around. The first to disappear are the feelings and memories people harbor for these objects before the physical evidences are forgotten.

Regardless, one by one, things disappear.

But in a world turned upside down, things I thought were mine and mine alone can be taken away much more easily than I would have imagined. If my body were cut up in pieces and those pieces mixed with those of other bodies, and then if someone told me, “Find your left eye,” I suppose it would be difficult to do so.

The book does not explain how or why or if this is a science experiment on the people in the island. What we, the readers, are given is that it is what it is. No one asks. No one resists. It just happens. It just is.

Here and there are special cases who, for some reason, are unaffected by these disappearances. Perhaps it is in their genetic makeup, but they do not forget. These people are in hiding. They cannot reveal their ability – rather, inability, or risk being taken by The Memory Police. One of these individuals is the narrator’s editor, R, who our narrator hides under her floorboards to protect against authority. Through writing, R helps her regain, or at least keep, the memories that have disappeared and are disappearing.

“I don’t know whether that’s the right word, but I do know that you’re changing, and not in a way that can be easily reversed or undone. It seems to be leading to an end that frightens me a great deal.”

For me, to properly review this novel requires a bit of distance and, as of this moment, I do not have that. That is why this is hard, painful, and scary. To be exactly at a time when truth is distorted and erased through propaganda and disinformation, an overwhelming majority denying history, The Memory Police cannot be just a book I have read for leisure. Rather, it is a diary, and I am the author.

I found myself shaking in different, numerous parts of the story. The similarity between the book and what is happening in reality is scarily accurate. They say life imitates art and I agree. How far are we from a time when Orwell’s 1984, Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and Ogawa’s The Memory Police are not simply works of fiction?

Or are we in that dystopia now? And in which part?

Our memories have been battered by the disappearances, and even now when it’s almost too late, we still don’t realize the importance of the things that have been lost.

Yoko Ogawa: The Housekeeper and the Professor (2003)

If I had known that Yoko Ogawa’s The Housekeeper and the Professor is filled with numbers and formulas, I would not have picked it up. As I mentioned in my previous review, I do not understand mathematics at all. I would have been pretty certain that I will doze off the second I see the first number.

But I did not fall asleep. On the contrary, I enjoyed every bit of it. Whereas I was pushing myself in the last two books, this time, I was enchanted. I was only allowed to read it on my spare time – which is not that much, working my government job from eight to five and caring for my active and demanding eight-month-old, yet I still managed to finish it in three days.

The Housekeeper and the Professor is a sweet and beautiful story about an old mathematics professor whose memory lasts for only eighty minutes, a housekeeper, and her son. They bonded over baseball, food, and math. It is full of love without the romance.

The book is like a math textbook, if math textbooks are written with such passion. Although I still do not get math, the book revived in me the enchantment I felt when, back in college, a guest professor allowed us to marvel at the omniscience of numbers and formulas. The whole time I was reading the book, I was thinking how this should be how math should be taught, how every math teacher should be reading this. Maybe the passion the professor had for math will inspire the same in teachers.

The Housekeeper and the Professor is easy-to-read. It does not contain “quotable quotes” (or at least I did not think of noting down the beautiful lines I found because I wanted to keep reading). The storytelling was simple, unpretentious, and relatively short. There were no unnecessary dialogues or scenes. The scenery was picturesque. The characters, all unnamed, were human.

Right now, I am about to start reading Yoko Ogawa’s The Memory Police, but I find myself hesitating. I do not want to move on from the The Housekeeper and the Professor just yet, but I am also excited to know what awaits me. Of course, I will be reading more books in the future and maybe find better stories, but so far, this is the most charming story I have read.