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The Learning curve

Impossible without government support

Frankfurt—This year’s Philippine country stand at the 70-year-old Frankfurter Buchmesse, showcasing 20 choice books from 15 publishers, marks only the fourth consecutive year the Philippine publishing industry has been able to mount such an exhibition.  Previous modest participation attempts were in the years 1998, 1999 and 2000.

The booth in 2000 was a mere 8-square-meter space. After a 15-year hiatus, the time had come to go back; our Philippine titles appeared ready, both in quantity and quality, to make an international appearance again, this time in a 48-sq-m booth in Hall 4 for International Exhibitors-Asia. It was still rather modest compared to our neighbors in the hall, namely Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, who have always enjoyed government support.  Indonesia was the first Asean guest of honor in 2015,  and will be Market Focus at the 2019 London Book Fair.  Kuala Lumpur is Unesco’s World Book Capital in 2020.

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The National Book Development Board has been largely spearheading the Philippine participation, along with the Book Development Association of the Philippines. It is a valiant attempt, budget-wise, to think Frankfurt and euros. Thus, it  has to be publicly acknowledged that without the generous Congressional Initiative (CI) of Sen. Loren Legarda,  known patroness of arts and culture, the country’s level of participation would not be this consistent or ambitious.

The CI has always been much higher than our approved budget item. For instance, in 2015, our budget had P50,000, while the CI was P5 million. The NBDB is more than elated that Senator Legarda strongly believes that Filipino talent and creativity in the book industry must be known by the rest of the world—the same boost she has given to Philippine participation in the Venice Art Biennale and the Venice Architecture Biennale.

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The current worry is that the senator is nearing the end of her third term in office and that support may be coming to an end. At the recent conversation of Inquirer editors with Senator Legarda, she gave the assurance that she would leave written instructions that such initiatives should continue. Senator Legarda’s untiring support shows that, somehow, as chair of the committee on finance, she is able to find money from other sources for projects such as the Frankfurt and other international book fairs. Also comforting to her beneficiary agencies is her plan to continue legislative work in Congress.

What makes this year’s Philippine presence at Frankfurt different and wider in scope than the previous years’? We are featuring two authors, Kristian Sendon Cordero (“The Filipino Writer as Translator”) and  Budjette Tan (“The Rise of the Independent Filipino Comic Book Creators and their Urban Fantasy Comics”), and an illustrator, Rommel Joson (“Komiks: Weapons of Information and Disinformation”) in hourlong sessions. Cordero and Joson are National Commission for Culture and the Arts travel grantees, while Tan, who works at Lego in Denmark, flies in at his own expense.

Upon the longstanding suggestion from then Consul to the Philippine Embassy in Berlin Adrian Cruz (now Manila-based, as the Department of Foreign Affairs’ director of the Office of European Affairs) to promote other aspects of Philippine culture, there is a cooking demo at the Gourmet Salon with Dusseldorf-based Maite Hontiveros Dittke. She is introducing Mama Sita’s Flavors of the Philippine Islands at the Gourmet Salon. Mama Sita is one of our participating publishers.

An important innovation is the Asean Forum, a significant initiative of lawyer  Dominador Buhain, president of the Asean Book Publishers Association and Rex Publishing. It features aspects of publishing from the 10 member countries for four days, and began with a talk on “Surviving—New Trends and Challenges in the Philippines,” featuring NBDB director Leonor Reyes, Danda Buhain of Rex, Virginia Bautista of Vicarish Publications and Karina Bolasco of Ateneo Press. It is hoped that the Asean Forum will continue in the next years as a truly collaborative effort among the member countries.

This year’s Philippine presence in Frankfurt is also the first time the Philippine delegation will be joined by Senator Legarda, who is herself exhibiting several books she has published on arts and culture. Education Undersecretary Annalyn Sevilla will be present, too.

Another boost is the presence and support of Consul General Evelyn Austria Garcia from the Philippine Consulate in Frankfurt, which opened just this month.

It is always a most welcome and refreshing gesture to the stakeholders of the book publishing industry to be told that, yes, all this has been made possible by your government, your taxes, and a few public servants.

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

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