Children of the 80s would remember Emang Engkantada, a terno-wearing fairy who handed over three wasteful children by showing them what nature’s wrath looks like. Or maybe they’d remember Digong Dilaw – a dyed-in-the-wool dilawan, if there ever was one – a boy who was obsessed with the color yellow and eventually had the power to turn everything into his favorite shade. Will he finally get tired of a sun-colored world?
Born from the imaginations of Virgilio Almario and Rene Villanueva respectively, Ema and Digong are the titular characters of two beloved children’s books, “Emang Engkantada at ang Tatlong Haragan” and “Digong Dilaw”. Both titles were published by Adarna House whose books achieved national acclaim four decades ago as supplementary reading material for children – more engaging and entertaining companions to school textbooks and created by some of the writers and the most talented and awarded illustrators in the country.
The 40-year-old publishing house was tagged last week after announcing its special sale for five previously published books that deal with the subject of martial law. The chosen titles have been collectively tagged as the #NeverAgain Bundle and have reportedly seen rapid sales since being offered at a 20% discount on May 11, two days after the Electoral Commission’s partial results were released. showed Ferdinand Marcos Jr. – whose father placed the Philippines under martial rule in 1972 – significantly ahead in the presidential race.
On May 12, National Intelligence Coordination Agency (NICA) Director General Alex Paul Monteagudo in his Facebook post accused the publishing house of “radicalizing Filipino children” against the government. “This is how the CPP/NPA/NDF radicalizes not only our young people, but also our children. Adarna Publishing House has released these books and they are now on sale to subtly radicalize Filipino children against our government (sic), now!” her message reads.
In a presser the next day, Monteagudo said that when issues like martial law are taught to children, it means “sowing seeds of hatred and dissent in the minds of those children”.
Don’t judge a book…
Two of the books in question were written by Palanca Award winner and “Batibot” writer Augie Rivera, who has 20 children’s titles to his name. These include books that deal with sensitive issues such as verbal abuse, sexual abuse and, yes, martial law. “Si Jhun Jhun, Noong Bago Ideklara Ang Batas Militar” tells the story of a boy living in the precarious times of martial law. The book received a special citation for children’s literature by the National Book Awards in 2005. Meanwhile, “Isang Harding Papel” tells the story of Jenny whose mother was imprisoned for staging a street play criticizing the Marcos dictatorship.
Rivera, in a Facebook post, condemned the allegation that his books radicalize Filipino children and denied being affiliated in any way with the groups mentioned by Monteagudo. He said the book “Jhun-Jhun” was written in 2001 as part of a five-title historical fiction series published by UNICEF Philippines and Adarna House.
“Tampok dito ang kuwento ng pakikipagsapalaran and pagkamulat ng ga kabataan and mahahalagang pangyayari and aral ing ating kasaysayan,” declared the writer who was awarded the Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas two years ago by the prestigious group of Filipino writers, the UMPIL, or the Unyon of Manunulat in the Philippines, for his contribution to local children’s literature written in the vernacular.
The other two books in the #NeverAgain bundle include ‘Edsa’, written by Russel Molina and illustrated by Sergio Bumatay III, a counting book that parents and teachers can use to tell the story of the 1986 People Power Revolution; “The Magic Arrow” written by Bonet Banal with illustrations by Korinne Banal, which tells the story of a people’s uprising against a dictator/king who kept saying “No”; and “Ito Ang Diktadura” which is part of the Aklat na Salin of Adarna. Written by Equipo Plantel with illustrations by Mike Casal, it was originally published in Spain in 1978 and reprinted and translated into Filipino by Adarna House. It describes what dictatorship and social injustice look like through the eyes of a child. A full broadcast is dedicated to famous dictators around the world, including Ferdinand Marcos, Sr.
In Defense of Adarna
While Adarna House has yet to address red marking, many have come to its defense. (ANCX contacted the editor for this story, but our request for an interview was declined. “We have no comment on what is happening and see no need for an interview,” the message read.)
The Book Development Association of the Philippines, in a letter to parents, teachers and readers, said NICA’s claim is far from the truth, adding that four of the titles in the batch have long been in circulation as historical fiction picture books while one is a translation. The letter also said children should know “that they have the fundamental right to free speech and can participate in the national conversation in meaningful and respectful ways.”
Multi-award winning writer Dean Francis Alfar in his Facebook post wrote that the Manila Circle of Critics “unequivocally” condemns the respected publishing house’s red labeling. “Not only is Adarna House an award-winning publisher known for producing only quality material, they are also a publisher dedicated to the truth.” He said it does a disservice to young readers when people assume they should be excused from learning about significant events in Philippine history, such as the imposition of martial law. “Let the truth be told. Let the publishers publish,” he urged.
Even popular fantasy and children’s book author Neil Gaiman, who wrote the bestsellers Coraline, Norse Mythology and The Sandman, has weighed in on the issue. To a Rappler post on Twitter about the intelligence chief’s comments, he simply said, “Not good.”
Adarna House was established during the reign of Ferdinand Marcos Sr. According to a blog post on adarnahouse.wordpress.com, in the late 1970s, the Nutrition Center of the Philippines, “a non-profit organization established in 1974 to help fight malnutrition” in the country, approached the esteemed poet, educator and literary man. historian Virgilio Almario at the end to lead his “mental feeding program”.
The future National Literature Artist was, according to the Adarna blog, a big believer that ignorance is a disease – and so the guy took up the agency’s challenge and launched a series of children’s books that he has dubbed Aklat Adarna, clearly invoking the healing power of the mythical bird Adarna. When the program ended, Almario continued the series with the help of a group called Children’s Communication Center. The amount of books they were publishing eventually necessitated the creation of their own publishing and distribution company – and so in 1980 Adarna House was born.
Over the decades he has, as the blog says, continued to release children’s books that aren’t just for kids “Kundi for all the nagpapahalaga in the kabataan kapakanan.”
According to the Adarna House website, it was created “to meet the need of Filipino children to develop their minds through enjoyable learning opportunities and memorable literary experiences.” Today, the publishing company is run by Almario’s wife, Emelina, as chairman of the board, with the help of their children Asa Montenejo as president, Ani Almario as vice president of product development and Agno Almario as vice president of sales and marketing.
For the past four decades, Adarna House has been a quiet but stable cultural entity, providing Filipino schools and Filipino homes with children’s books that encourage reading in Filipino and English, teach local culture and help children understand complex societal truths such as the breakdown of marriages. , death and injustice.
Former parenting website editor Leah San Jose laments charges against Adarna House by NICA. “In my previous job, it was always a pleasure to find their baby books because they were written in Filipino,” San Jose said. “Inaangat nila yung heritage, cultural identity, and values of Pilipino. Awesome stories to help young children and parents manage their emotions, including two na nasa Martial Law bundle nila books.
Prior to Adarna House, two of the country’s oldest independent bookstores known for carrying extensive Filipino collections, Popular Bookstore and Solidaridad, were also targets of red markings. In March, bookstore facades were spray-painted with “NPA” and “Terrorista.”
Meanwhile, with his decision not to defend himself with written statements or interviews, Adarna House seems to say he’s not bothered by the accusations. And why should it be so when, according to its website, it sticks to the often weakened abilities of its core audience? “He is [the Filipino children’s] a curiosity that drives us, their creativity that we wish to match, and their potential for greatness that we will always strive to serve,” the company writes. “They are the ones who keep us committed to our duty: to create good playmates, classmates and friends not only for children, but also for art, literature and country.”