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Frankfurt, with much help from government

It is nothing short of a miracle that a Philippine stand at the Frankfurt international book fair has been a reality for five consecutive years—thanks to the grit and perseverance of former senator and now deputy speaker of the House of Representatives Loren Legarda. She certainly puts her money where her mouth is, for she was determined to bring Philippine books to the Frankfurter Buchmesse (FBM), which she playfully calls the Disneyland of booklovers or the Olympics of creative writers.

In the same impassioned manner that she brought Philippine art and architecture back to the Venice Biennale after a 51-year hiatus—now successfully institutionalized through the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the Department of Foreign Affairs—Legarda began to supplement the National Book Development Board’s (NBDB) paltry budget through more generous congressional initiatives from 2016.

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The Philippine book industry has not been visible as a country stand since 2000. In 1998, to mark the centennial of Philippine independence, the NBDB led by lawyer Dominador Buhain had a modest stand of 8 sq m, which increased to 12 sq m in 2000, the country’s last participation until 2015.

Of course, it stands to reason that when a country chooses to participate, consistent yearly presence is absolutely necessary. One cannot attend one year and skip the next. The attendance and the size of the booth mirror the stability and the determination of the country to be known and be visible enough to buy and sell book rights.

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This year marked the fifth year the NBDB has been present. Our stand has grown from 60 sq m to today’s 120 sq m. Credit goes to former Book Development Association of the Philippines (BDAP) president, the late Lirio Sandoval, a pillar in the industry who, without any budgetary planning, simply decided it was time to return to Frankfurt, this time with more daring and vigor. He simply told the BDAP that it would happen. And it did, as an NBDB-BDAP collaboration, with his successor Ani Almario David, who is also an NBDB governor. It is unfortunate that Sandoval passed away before his dream was realized.

From 2016 till today, NBDB, with Legarda’s help, has been able to pay for the entire stand, thus easing the financial burden on the local publishers who pay for their travel and living expenses in Frankfurt. I am always proud to be able to say to the industry that, yes, your government is interested enough to showcase your products.

The government’s belated interest and concern for our Philippine titles and the creatives who make them possible has been a surprising development. What a show of force Books Philippines had in the week past. Legarda did not only have many meetings with the Philippine team, but also met with FBM CEO Juergen Boos, as we all dream of a bigger presence culminating in 2024. Her presence and commitment were necessary to attest to the earnestness of this penultimate goal.

Foreign Undersecretary Ernesto Abella, himself a booklover and former student in Ateneo of legendary teachers Nic Tiongson and Rolando Tinio, appreciated the efforts of Books Philippines and was eager for cultural diplomacy to bring books to the world.

We hardly felt away from home, with the solicitous care and concern of Philippine Consul General Evelyn Austria Garcia, whose consulate was opened just a year ago—another success story through the efforts of Legarda. The Philippine Embassy is in Berlin, but Ambassador Theresa Dizon De Vega was also a presence we so appreciated.

Another government official in attendance was Board of Investments (BOI) executive director Corazon Hallili Dichosa, also an NBDB governor instrumental in helping the fledgling industry grow. Along with Anna Buenafe, also of BOI, they have been instrumental in encouraging us to, first and foremost, develop a roadmap, and for the publishers to avail themselves of BOI incentives.

It is always a bumpy road getting to Frankfurt, but when the NBDB is most discouraged, we know whom to turn to.

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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: Frankfurter Buchmesse, Loren Legarda, Philippine art and architecture, Venice
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