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Proud to be Filipino

Who would have thought there were raging rains last weekend with the throng of booklovers that came to the 6th Philippine Readers and Writers Festival (PRWF) at Raffles Hotel in Makati?

The month of August begins with this much-awaited event, mounted by National Book Store (NBS) for booklovers and readers of well-known Filipino and international authors. The free-admission festival ran again for three days, with simultaneous sessions from 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m. I appreciate it as NBS’ way of thanking its clientele for 77 years of good business, although it is also a marvelous way to promote the imported books it carries and the titles of its publishing arm, Anvil Publishing, with its stellar lineup of Filipino writers, and those of the other invited Philippine publishers.

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How I love the idea of authors being presented as celebrities in a high-end hotel venue, in this case the Raffles, which has also been special to me because of its Writers Bar on the ground floor. Not only because my husband Elfren and I launched “The Aquino Legacy” there in 2015 with P-Noy and the Aquino family present, but also, I remember that when I discovered the Writer’s Bar in Raffles Singapore in 1985—my memory is not that sharp, but I cannot forget that it was in the midst of the David vs. Goliath Cory presidential campaign—the staff saw me so entranced that they gave me, after a Singapore Sling (which I paid for), a much treasured Writer’s Bar t-shirt with author signatures of the hotel guests: Joseph Conrad, Raymond Flower and five others with illegible signatures. Sorry for the digression.

Why does such a festival draw a crowd? It is a chance for fans to meet, listen to and interact with known bylines, to learn more about the craft of writing, to buy books of featured authors at a special price and have them signed, to be in the company of those similarly obsessed with books and reading. Making it more special for millennials were the raffle promos, the one-minute shopping sprees all needing the QR Pass—I gasped over that, until a kind NBS employee led me to an understanding using my phone.

I could only make it to the afternoon of Day 2 of the PRWF, but what a mind-blowing and inspiring experience it was. I attended three ballroom sessions, but other, more intimate sessions beckoned, too.

Historian-raconteur Ambeth Ocampo’s session brought in his usual SRO crowd for “Maps and the Emergence of the Filipino Nation.” Take note that he said no one could provide a basis for the 7,000-plus islands we say the Philippines has. Ocampo checked and checked with many sources, and the latest count is 7,641 islands, with half of them nameless and some 1,000 rocks not included. I appreciated the interesting information found on the borders of old Philippine maps, giving us an intimate glimpse of precolonial life.

And why do we speak of the Philippines as having been discovered? Were we ever lost? Did we ever get submerged? The colonizers landed on our shores and did not discover us, we beg your pardon. We need to read up on our history, and be active and critical readers who will not just accept old textbook facts, but pursue the basis for these, especially in the light of the 500th year of Magellan’s expedition in 1519. Again, Ocampo proved how revealing and how enjoyable history can be.

Of course, that led me to a close look at the 1734 Murillo Velarde Map of the Philippines through a print at home, “Reproduced from the original in the Quirino Collection, Manila under the auspices of the Philippines Chapter of the International Association of Historians of Asia, 1964.” I found Manila, Minondo (sic), and our hometown, Cabanatuan, and took note of the intricate drawings of ships surrounding our islands. The map truly deserves to be called the Velarde-De la Cruz map, as the explanatory note said that “This map was designed by Pedro Murillo Velarde, S.J. (1696-1753) and engraved by Nicolás de la Cruz Bagay, printer to the University of San Ignacio in Manila, a native Filipino. As the most accurate hitherto drawn, it was used in admiralty, court proceedings, and extensively copied.”

Thanks to Ambeth and Xandra Ramos for the PRWF. I left the room standing prouder and taller as a Filipino.

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected] gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: National Book Store, Philippine Readers and Writers Festival, The Aquino Legacy
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