Malou Leviste Jacob is one of the country’s acclaimed playwrights. In 2005, she received the Southeast Asian Writers Award, the award given annually to writers and poets from each of the countries that comprise the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). SEA Write Award protocol dictates that the ceremonies are held in Bangkok, with a member of the Thai royal family present.
Malou’s Filipino co-laureates, since the award began in 1979, are a veritable who’s who of National Artists, Palanca awardees and the country’s best—caution, this very partial list can be lengthy—Nick Joaquin, Edilberto K. Tiempo, Virginia R. Moreno, Bienvenido N. Santos, Rio Alma (Virgilio Almario), Carmen Guerrero Nakpil, Krip Yuson, Linda Ty-Casper, Alejandro Roces, Felice Prudente Santa Maria, Marne Kilates, Vim Nadera, Elmer Ordoñez, Abdon Balde Jr., Bienvenido Lumbera, Ricky de Ungria, to name a few.
What are Malou’s other aces up her sleeves? She has been a resident playwright of the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA), studied TV production and direction in the City University of New York, film production in New York University, directs TV and video documentaries, was executive director of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and is a teacher (De La Salle University, University of the Philippines Baguio) and creative consultant. She has also joined the league of those red tagged.
Last week, five commissioners of the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino exercised a most unusual hubris of red tagging writers of books published by the commission. They accused commission chair Arthur P. Casanova of authorizing the publications.
But what exactly is their beef? The five commissioners contend that the publications had “subversive themes.” The statement did not contain any explanation what they even mean by “subversive.” It is a highly debatable indictment in a country that has already repealed an erstwhile anti-subversion law. Subversion is not a crime. (Throwback: the dictator Marcos called it a crime through a tortuous definition.)
But here’s the twist. On the same breath, they also say the publications had “explicit Anti-Marcos and Anti-Duterte contents.” And there lies the rub. In other words, they claim that criticism against Marcos and Duterte are criminal sins. Oh my God, can you say that again before a mirror Carmelita Abdurahman, Benjamin Mendilio Jr., Hope Yu, Alan Russ Dimzon, Angela Lorenzana?
Not only did they red tag the books, they have also ordered their pullout. They found an ally in Lorraine Badoy, the most ridiculous red tagger in the history of this country who was once asked by the senate to apologize for her gossipy baseless accusations. Badoy echoed the commissioners’ red tagging in a media outlet very convenient to her, Apollo Quiboloy’s SMNI TV that is often perceived as a propaganda machine of the Dutertes. Naturally nothing anti-Duterte will pass SMNI’s skewed judgment. The now-jobless Badoy, however, will make a good career there as its chief red tagger.
Among those books red tagged were Malou Jacob’s yet unpublished “Teatro Pulitikal Dos.” It is a collection of plays that include the Mindanao-based story “Aidao,” “Mahabang Pagdadalawang-isip sa Maikling Buhay ng Isang Petiburgis-burgis,” and “Huling Salubong” that revolves around a father and son who had never met because the father had left his family to go underground. In the end he went home to his family after going through shattering deep penetration killings, only to finally find his family devoid of any dreams in life.
“They have not read my plays,” Malou says. “The playwright reacts to situations around her as an interpretation of an event. All my plays were written because I had to: Juan Tamban on Estong the streetchild who ate insects to survive (I even did a video documentary on him); Macli-ing Dulag who wanted to save his community (I had to write a play or I couldn’t sleep); Anatomiya ng Korupsyon, etc. These plays have all been staged and published.”
Also joining Malou in that honorable league of the red tagged is prolific Mindanao writer Don Pagusara. In 1974, at the height of the Marcos martial law, Don was detained in the Youth Rehabilitation Center of Fort Bonifacio. He was in now historic company – among his co-detainees were Nilo Tayag, Leoncio Co, Linda Taruc. Some of them were released after Christmas of 1976 after Pope John Paul II’s first visit to the country and after Jaime Cardinal Sin visited them in detention.
Don’s “May Hadlang ang Umaga” is biographical of his martial law detention, a fictionalized prison life of writers and activists hated by the state for their critical stance against the dictatorship. That is not a sin. Neither is the defense of historical truth.
Eyebrows are raised why a government cultural agency whose job is not in any way related to national security has joined the ranks of the preposterous. These government commissioners are helping create a moral code that randomly puts in peril individuals exercising their rights of opinion and artistic creation in a kill list. That is not their job, period.
When Ambeth Ocampo delivered his keynote address at the 9th general assembly of the Local Historical Committees network in Cebu City early this month, a commenter named Ethan Ace joined the thread in his Facebook post about it and who said: “Communism indoctrination po yan, ingat lang.” Even a government agency is now being red tagged.
Malou explains the red tagging from what she calls a “macroview: when there is an incoming administration, the current directors of agencies in the Executive Branch tender their courtesy resignations. Otherwise a fight within the agency ensues. They just want the resignation of KWF chairman Arthur Casanova.” It is infighting and jockeying for positions at our taxpayer’s expense.
Expect more red tagging to worsen under the new Marcos administration. The first red tagger, lest we forget, was the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Now we have red taggers who do so because of vicious infighting for government posts, and then for the jobless like Badoy to find a new career as broadcaster in the TV station of Apollo Quiboloy who btw also red tags. It has become a cottage industry.