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Rare Filipiniana lost in the war

History makes raw the wounds inflicted by the 1945 Battle for Manila. First-person accounts of the murder, rape, torture, and robbery of innocents by Japanese soldiers trapped in the city by the advance of the Allied Forces make for very painful reading.

Then there remains the irreparable loss of cultural heritage: buildings, monuments, art, antiques, books, and manuscripts that formed part of what once was “the distinguished and ever loyal city.” Battle scars remain on Intramuros. Gaps remain in the collections of the National Museum and Library, and these came to mind when I recalled Platform 9 ¾ at London King’s Cross Station where the magic train takes wizards to Hogwarts. When Harry Potter books migrated into films, some liberties were taken: First, the brick wall on Platform 9 ¾ they disappear into is actually located between Platforms 4 and 5; second, exterior shots show nearby St. Pancras, rather than “King’s X [Cross]” station, for its more photogenic Victorian architecture.

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Filipino Potter pilgrims should also check out the nearby British Library where Antonio de Morga’s “Sucesos de las islas Filipinas” is preserved—both its 1609 first edition as well as Rizal’s autographed 1890 edition. However, Rizal didn’t read in the present British Library, inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998; he did so in the British Museum, a 20-minute walk from King’s X station.

I used the Great Reading Room of the British Library a century after Rizal had been there, and I remember requesting an 18th-century item that could not be located. “Sorry,” the reference librarian exclaimed, ‘‘I’m afraid you have to blame the Germans for the loss of this book. In September 1940 a bomb exploded in the East Wing of the Library, destroying part of the collection of George III.” When I asked why the book was listed in the catalog if it didn’t exist, the librarian repeated: “You have to blame the Germans…” Frustrated, I suggested that the catalog alert the seeker with a note stating: “Destroyed by Germans, 1940.” Since an audit of the shelves in 2010-11, the British Library has embarked on replacing books lost in 1940.

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From the 1945 salvage report of H. Otley Beyer, Gabriel Bernardo, and Maj. Arthur E. Kimberly, we know that only half a truckload of materials were salvaged from the ruins of the Legislative Building (now the National Museum of Fine Arts): “The only objects of any great value saved were chiefly in the nature of documents and letters which had been stored in a damaged iron safe (burst open by a shell subsequent to the fire). These included some original letters by Juan Luna and Eduardo de Lete. The main collection of the National Library and Museum was thus almost wholly destroyed by the fire which had gutted the entire interior of the building.”

Contrary to popular belief, an important part of the library’s rare Filipiniana survived, because these were transferred from the Legislative Building to the Normal School and Manila City Hall in December 1944. When Beyer and Bernardo visited the Normal School on March 15, 1945, they found that some rooms had not burned down. Recovered were 3,000 general reference volumes from the National Library, books and papers from the National Language Institute, and “about 3,000 volumes (including nearly 80 percent of the Tabacalera Collection, bought by the Philippine Government for $250,000; part of the Pardo de Tavera and Zulueta collections; and, sentimentally of most value to the Filipino people, the original manuscripts of Rizal’s Noli [me tangere], Filibusterismo, and Ultimo Adios constituting the more unique parts of the Collection.”

Rizaliana deposited in a Manila City Hall vault by E.B. Rodriguez were looted and have never been recovered. It is not well known that our National Library has many unique items unavailable anywhere else. The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases should recognize that the National Museum and National Library are essential to our well-being and development, and should not be classified as “leisure” like malls and movie houses.

Instead of mere commemoration of the 1945 Battle for Manila, perhaps the National Library should undertake an inventory of its rare Filipiniana as a step toward replacing everything lost or destroyed 75 years ago, to rebrand itself like the British Library as a place for research, inspiration, and enjoyment.

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Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: 1945 Battle for Manila, Harry Potter, Japanese Occupation, Jose Rizal
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