PEN delegates tackle threats against freedom of expression

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(Photo by Hazel Grace Posadas/The Varsitarian)

FOREIGN delegates from the worldwide federation of writers PEN (Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, Novelists) International discussed threats against writing and freedom of expression last July 4 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines Main Gallery in Pasay.

Tammy Lai Ming Ho of PEN Hong Kong said “the overall academic and literary environment is compromised [and] poisoned.”

Ho explained how Hong Kong writers started practicing censorship on issues concerning members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, the Tiananmen Square Massacre and the Umbrella Movement, because of government agencies banning books on such “unsafe topics.”

“[F]reedom of expression is being increasingly challenged and threatened. Worse, some members in society adapt a resigned attitude in this situation and are no longer alarmed by further infringements on their freedom…[T]his environment is very stiffening,” Ho said.

Apoorvanand Jha of PEN Delhi deplored the “knowledge enterprise” that has taken over universities, belittling the liberal arts through “market-oriented education.”

“The centralized agency is now utilizing centralized curriculum and asking universities to implement rules. They ask universities to produce ’employable’ young men and women, undermining the value of general education,” Jha said.

Education has become the “milking-cow of capitalism,” instead of institutions that let students explore their capabilities, he said.

Sangamesh Menasinakai of PEN South India recounted the story of different scholars, activists, writers, men and women who were silenced and killed for helping liberate oppressed people.

The event featured song performances and poetry readings. Philosophy alumnus and former Varsitarian Filipino editor Michael Coroza read his poem “Dalitiwan” and sung Kundiman, while UST Publishing House writer Vijae Alquisola read his poem “Bilang Buhay.”

Other performers were award-winning musician Gary Granada; poets John Iremil Teodoro, Louise Lopez, Aldrin Pentero, Roy Cagalingan, Genevieve Asenjo and Carlos Piocos; and writers Yorn Young (Cambodia), Mitra Bandhu Poudel (Nepal), Ho, Menasinakai and Myat Thu Soe (Myanmar).

The event, titled “Free the Word!” was part of PEN International’s Civil Society Program Workshop, a five-day series of forums and festivals on contemporary literature and creative writing, held in the Philippines, Spain and Jamaica, among other countries.

The event was organized by the Philippine PEN, founded in 1957 by National Artist for Literature and former Varsitarian editor in chief F. Sionil Jose. Francis Agapitus E. Braganza 

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