Commentary

Reading rocks, copyright rules

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That was the catchy slogan of this year’s celebration of World Book and Copyright Day on April 23, an annual event traditionally spearheaded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco). It is a day meant to honor authors and literature and to call attention to the need to respect copyright.

The National Book Development Board in partnership with the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines and SM Megamall led the festivities with a six-float motorcade campaigning for reading, copyright, and literature. The motorcade in the Ortigas area leading to Megamall did cause people to stop and stare and be puzzled over this extraordinary display of love of books and promotion of copyright. It was precisely the public response we wanted to elicit, thus the colorfully designed open trucks for the NBDB, IPO, Precious Pages Publishing, University of the Philippines Institute of Creative Writing, Komisyon ng Wikang Pilipino, and SM Megamall.

But none of the clever and colorful decor could match the main attraction on the KWP float—a true-to-life literary muse, Patricia Fernandez, a Bb. Pilipinas title holder.

A program at the Megamall followed the motorcade. IPO Director General Ricardo Blancaflor, internationally recognized as one of the most influential voices on intellectual property for his aggressive work in the country, was especially jubilant in his remarks because of the recent passage into law of the new Intellectual Property Code (Republic Act No. 8293). That was an historic milestone considering that the original fathers of the law, former senators Blas Ople and Raul Roco, are no longer around to witness the fruit of their crusade.

Rather than talk about the salient features of RA 8293, Blancaflor recounted what to him was a breakthrough. He described how a delegation of visually impaired persons kept faithful vigil during the deliberations in Congress, and said they had achieved what they sought. They are no longer required to secure special permission to have all the books they need and want for Braille editions. That is truly giving them the free access that is available to others—a longstanding lament of Randy Weisser, director of the Resources for the Blind Inc., who had been largely unsuccessful in his attempts to seek permission from the different publishers. Very bluntly, Weisser had asked: How do we provide the blind with the books they need to learn and to enjoy at leisure? It is a human right to which the visually impaired are entitled.

The rest of the program was a literary feast—performance poetry by the likes of Vim Nadera and readings by well-known poets delighted to be reading to a mall audience that had gathered on all floors. Gemino Abad, Gabriela Lee, Francis Quina, Roberto Añonuevo, Benilda Santos, Rebecca Añonuevo, and the Lacaba father and son Pete and Kris made poetry come alive. Ateneo professor Beni Santos remarked that it was one of the largest audiences her poetry had ever had.

It convinced us all again how much poetry is meant to be spoken, rather than just read. Another helpful reminder to all teachers of literature that reading out loud is the best way to introduce it, understand it, and “unlock” it.

The readings were climaxed by the coronation of the day’s “Paraluman ng Panitikan

(literary muse),” beauty queen Patricia Fernandez, by  balagtasan  pro Teo Antonio, a  balik-artist from the United States. Teo emerged as the day’s superstar, for he dramatically delivered his verses for the muse spontaneously, composed on the spot, with neither notes nor hard copy to read from.

Balagtasan  performances are ideal for school assemblies and convocations. They do not only entertain and amuse as witty poetic jousts, they also arouse in the viewer a strong sense of pride in the richness of Filipino literary tradition.

The day could not have been without literature because of another reason for the specialness of April 23. It is the date of the death of William Shakespeare and Miguel Cervantes, and the birth date of Vladimir Nabokov. How can a day such as this not make us all pause in homage to the blessings of literature in our lives and to the creative souls that produce them? There is no disputing that literature gives us the best insights on life, by making us laugh or weep. However it affects us is its special power and magic.

It is this desire to continue to spread the Word, whether written or spoken, to every Filipino, especially those who have yet to discover its wonders, that the Komisyon ng Wikang Pilipino now headed by National Artist for Literature Virgilio Almario, together with the NBDB, is looking ahead. It plans to continue raising public consciousness on reading and literature by expanding the April 23 feast to a longer celebration that will happily begin on April 2, the birthday of Francisco Balagtas, our poet laureate who needs to be better known by all.

We have to continue to read, rock, and rule!

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz (nenisrcruz@gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of Teach for the Philippines, and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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