Demand answers on #NationalNonLibrarian | Inquirer Opinion
Sisyphus’ Lament

Demand answers on #NationalNonLibrarian

Dr. Vernon Totanes’ legal campaign, #NationalNonLibrarian, is the most intelligent crusade by a nonlawyer. We must see such campaigns through, beyond initial media attention.

Cesar Gilbert Adriano was appointed to head the National Library on March 17, 2017. He is not a licensed librarian.

The first librarian board exams were held in 1992. The Librarianship Act of 2003 requires all librarians in government
libraries to be licensed.

Adriano’s predecessor was not just any librarian but a heavyweight: my legal bibliography professor and former UP
College of Law librarian, Antonio Santos.


I could not google Adriano’s CV.

Totanes filed an Ombudsman complaint last Jan. 19, arguing Adriano’s appointment is illegal. He even cited the law’s criminal penalties for unlicensed practice of librarianship.

Totanes copied the Civil Service Commission (CSC), Commission on Audit, Professional Regulation Commission, and Senate and House of Representatives committees. He asked them to scrutinize all government appointments.

Totanes did not file quo warranto, a petition questioning qualifications, because he is not interested in Adriano’s job. A person may only file this, instead of our government, if he claims to be entitled to the position.


The well-thought-out complaint received instant coverage, from the Inquirer to Esquire. Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque left the issue to the Ombudsman.

My fellow columnist Randy David likened Totanes to US Special Counsel Robert Mueller and reiterated the need to ensure officials are qualified.


Columnist Ambeth Ocampo argued the National Library is not strictly a library but a cultural agency with further policy
functions. He cited “eminent nonlibrarians” as its first directors.

The caveat is a hospital CEO or newspaper publisher need not be a doctor or journalist. Who would argue if a scholar of Ocampo’s stature headed the National Library?

Act No. 2572, a 1916 law, created the National Library by combining the Philippine Library, Executive Bureau archive division and Philippine Assembly law library.

This colonial law predated licenses for librarians by 76 years. Thus, it created Adriano’s position but could not have specified whether he is a librarian or a manager of librarians.

Still, in 2016, the CSC’s own job description NL-NCCAC-DIR4-1-1998 read: “Must be a licensed librarian.”

Why is #NationalNonLibrarian a model legal campaign?

First, it focused on applying one specific law, unlike a charivari against everything from lapdogs of both China and the United States to jeepney modernization.

Its simplicity is distilled into the brilliant hashtag #NationalNonLibrarian.

Second, it was kept nonpartisan and independent. Surely we can all agree that government appointees must meet legal requirements.

Third, Totanes has impeccable credibility in his field, unlike many serial petitioners.

He is the library director and a history professor of the premier Ateneo de Manila University and graduate of its elite Management Engineering program. He holds a master’s and a doctorate in information science from the University of the Philippines and the University of Toronto.

His honors range from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts’ 2014 Young Historian’s Prize to being among the five hottest Filipino librarians picked by the blog, Librarian Secret Files.

Fourth, Totanes is not a media whore. He did not post the usual self-promoting picture holding up his complaint, or superficial sound bites that bait shares and retweets.

Finally, Totanes made concrete demands for action, not the typical vague call to overthrow the government.

Totanes admirably sparked a crucial debate not just on the letter of the law, but the spirit of qualifications for a key office.

Sadly, he has yet to receive an answer, not even from Adriano.

Our democracy must support civic action by experts like Totanes in their own fields. We must back credible, well-thought-out activism instead of superficial social media influencers and nuisance petitioners.

We must demand answers on the #NationalNonLibrarian.

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TAGS: National Library, Oscar Franklin Tan, Sisyphus’ Lament, Vernon Totanes

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