Redbaiting Rizal: The House Committee on Anti-Filipino Activities (CAFA) and the Noli-Fili debate of the mid 1950s

Joseph Scalice

Among the many exports of Washington in the 1950s to its newly independent colony was McCarthyism. This political methodology of witch-hunting and scapegoating was implemented wholesale in the Philippine legislature which deemed that ideas suspect of being ‘red’ were as ‘Un-Filipino’ as they were ‘Un-American.’ This paper deals with the fierce political debates surrounding proposed legislation, known as the Noli-Fili bill, to make the anti-colonial novels of Philippine national hero, Jose Rizal, required university reading. A central role in the McCarthyism of the day was played by the Catholic Church, which through its powerful lay organization, Catholic Action (CA), secured the passage of legislation which made being a ranking member of the Communist Party a capital offense, launched the publication of the scholarly journal Philippine Studies on the basis of militant anti-Communism, and in 1956 opposed the passage of the Noli-Fili bill.  The proposal to make mandatory the reading of Rizal’s trenchantly anti-clerical works was publicly denounced as a ‘red’ plot, and the proponents of the bill, in particular Claro M. Recto, were threatened not only with political scapegoating but with religious anathematization as well. I argue that the compromise legislation which was finally passed laid the basis for the mandatory reading of bastardized translations which transformed Rizal into an innocuous and rather dull historical saint.


Joseph Scalice is a postdoctoral researcher at Nanyang Technological University, having completed his Ph.D in Southeast Asian Studies at UC Berkeley in 2018. His dissertation dealt with the rival Communist Parties of the
Philippines and their role in President Marcos’ imposition of martial law in 1972.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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