[Monday Reading] Picturebooks Depicting State Violence from the Philippines


It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date).


For 2022, our reading theme is #DecolonizeBookshelves2022. Essentially, we hope to feature books that fit any of the following criteria:

  1. Postcolonial literature and/or [pre/post] revolutionary stories
  2. Stories by indigenous / first-nation peoples / people of colour
  3. Narratives of survival and healing, exile and migration, displacement and dispossession
  4. Books written or illustrated by people who have been colonized, oppressed, marginalized

Kakatok-Katok Sa Bahay Ni Benok (Knocking On Benok’s House) (Free Download from CANVAS)

Written by Mon Sy Illustrated by Faye Abantao
Published by CANVAS (2021)
ISBN: 9789719689386 Downloaded from publisher’s website. Book photos taken by me.

A young boy named Benok lived in Sitio San Nikolas with his friends Mikoy and Katkat. The place described in the book reminded me of my childhood days of growing up in Manila: the noise of a poor urban jungle with destitute individuals who know practically everyone in the neighbourhood, desperately struggling to get by.

Things drastically changed in this bustling little town with a knock in a neighbor’s house in the middle of the night. Benok remembers this night distinctly because he was preparing for a school examination the following day and he found it hard to sleep. He noticed from their window that there were strange men in white knocking on a neighbor’s door, then he heard “Tok” followed by the sight of the men rushing away from the area.

This incident was followed by the disappearance of neighbors and the ominous knock on people’s doors followed by even more missing individuals. This story parallels the Oplan Tokhang Operation perpetrated by the Philippine police as they were mandated by outgoing President Duterte to wage their “war on drugs.” This is marked allegedly by police officers or supposed vigilantes knocking on poor people’s doors resulting in the deaths of suspected drug users or pushers.

In the story, Benok’s Nanay and Mamang knew that there was no one they could ask for help with what was happening in their sitio, and so they have decided to leave town, rather than wait for the men in white to knock on their door. There is an element of magical realism to this narrative, especially when Benok and his family found themselves in the middle of the woods in their attempt to escape the reality of the events around them.

What struck me the most, however, was the sense of community that can be felt towards the end of the narrative: the sense of despair and helplessness lifted by a group of cowering individuals who eventually found their voice and strength in solidarity. It is a reminder that there is still strength in numbers as individuals come together with a clear resolve to fight for their freedom.

To date, there are over 30,000 deaths attributed to the Oplan Tokhang Operation and currently being investigated by the Commission on Human Rights and the International Criminal Court.

Silent Witnesses (Mga Tahimik Na Saksi): Stories From The Survivors Of Martial Law (Free download from CANVAS)

Stories Retold by Gigo Alampay Illustrator Renz Baluyot
Published by CANVAS (2019) ISBN: 9789719689188
Downloaded from publisher’s website. Book photos taken by me.

There is an attack on truth and a war on historical facts that have been perpetrated insidiously in the Philippines leading to the recently concluded Philippine elections resulting in the return of Marcos Junior into power – a totally unthinkable and almost preposterous notion, except that this travesty is actually occurring at the moment. The image below from Silent Witnesses – with the skulls of tortured individuals and the disappeared – is quite fitting as the son of a fallen dictator and tyrant prepares to assume office in a few weeks’ time.

Marcos apologists contend that there is “another side of history” that has been silenced when the family that has plundered billions was ousted from Malacanang and forced to live in exile. What is laughable is that this supposed “side of history” is precisely the propaganda that the Marcos government had been feeding the Filipino people to justify their years in power.

Meanwhile, the narratives of people who had been tortured, silenced, summarily executed – are now diminished and pushed into oblivion as lies, untruths, propaganda take center stage once again with the Marcoses back in power. I am grateful that there are picturebooks like this that serve as a reminder of the country’s sordid history, even as those choking the life out of the Philippines wilfully revise history to suit their nefarious purposes.

With all that is happening, I am reminded of William Butler Yeats’ The Second Coming:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

#DecolonizeBookshelves2022 Update: 55/56 out of target 100

June 6, 2022 at 06:30AM Myra Garces-Bacsal