What a difference gov’t subsidy makes
The Frankfurt Book Fair (FBF, or Buchmesse) is behind us now, having ended six days ago. But what a specially significant event this year’s participation of the Philippines was, only the second consecutive year that its publishing industry managed to do so.
Our Asean neighbors (geographically and physically at the FBF Hall 4.0 for International Publishers) could not hide their admiration that the Philippine collective stand would be this striking, this impressive, considering our humbler participation in the past.
Decades ago, Isagani Cruz remembers, the Philippines had a country booth in the FBF. Poet Marjorie Evasco, then director of De La Salle University Press, was invited to represent the country’s publishers in 1989 and was grateful that then Presidential Legal Counsel Adolf Azcuna had arranged for the shipping of the books via diplomatic pouch. Ester Pacheco, Karina Bolasco, RayVi Sunico, Nida Ramirez, Kyra Ballesteros, and this year, Billie Andrada of Ateneo University Press, also went on the same international training program for publishers that gave the country a small complimentary booth.
There were many things different about this year’s stand that carried the theme “Philippines: A New Wave of Storytelling.” David Guerrero of BBDO and “It’s more fun in the Philippines” fame cleverly used the word “wave” to convey the Philippines’ islands and its unique ways of writing. How fortunate that we first met David because of his interest in promoting the books of his father, Leon Ma. Guerrero, principally the excellent translations of Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo.” Studio Dialogo’s Liza Flores and Abi Goy, both outstanding members of the Ilustrador ng Kabataan, captured our tropical sunshine in the dominant bright yellow of the stand. And the books on display from the different publishers were classified in terms of topic, cover design and size—so that they were presented in a specific fashion. The final execution of stand layout and design was commissioned to the FBF. The professionally done stand itself was a major accomplishment, and was made possible with the generous subsidy that the government provided, spearheaded by Sen. Loren Legarda, our true patron.
The compliments received by the 30-plus delegation for its showing were also due to the support of the government. What a boost it was to have Philippine Ambassador to Germany Melita Sta. Maria Thomeczek and Consul Catherine Torres cohost our opening reception, which was stylishly catered by Maite Hontiveros Dittke. Ambassador Thomeczek, who revealed that one of her first jobs was as researcher for the then fledgling Adarna publishing house, pledged to support what is hoped to be a continuing FBF participation by the Philippines. There have been many fairs in Germany exhibiting different Philippine products, and it is time our books gained prominence, the ambassador said.
Senator Legarda could not join us in Frankfurt as the FBF coincided with the deliberations on the 2017 national budget. But she sent a message: “There is much opportunity for us in the international community only if we make ourselves visible to them; that is, if we have various means to make our written works more available and made known on a wider scope.”
The key to the FBF and the many other international book fairs is a continuing, sustained presence—something possible only with government subsidy. It could not have happened without the participation of the Book Development Association of the Philippines headed by Ani Almario. There was also the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, which provided travel grants to fictionist Jose Y. Dalisay Jr. and cartoonist Manix Abrera—another first for us. Education Secretary Leonor Briones and the Department of Education, to which the National Book Development Board is attached, wholeheartedly supported this initiative.
And now, the more challenging work begins: an honest assessment.
Neni Sta. Romana Cruz (email@example.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.
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