Saturday, October 14, 2017

Footnotes for post-truth

LIBRARIES open their doors. What would be the value of collections if the doors were closed?

During an afternoon’s aimless browsing, I was nonplussed to discover a library that, to become the “unofficial archives of the political underworld,” also went “underground” for 30 years or so.

So wrote professor Francisco Nemenzo in the foreword to the “Philippine Radical Papers in the University of the Philippines Diliman Main Library: A Subject Guide,” (UP Press, 1998).

The book was compiled by the Filipiniana Special Collections Project staff of UP Diliman, which collaborated with the Cornell University and the University of Wisconsin in 1996-97 to catalogue and microfilm the Radical Papers.

According to project leader Verna Lee, the UPD Main Library became the repository of a collection, ranging from underground periodicals to protest poetry, that became contraband after martial law was imposed by President Ferdinand Marcos in 1972.

After executing the “autogolpe (coup),” Marcos consolidated his dictatorship by rounding up his critics and seizing all means of transportation and communication. Nemenzo observed that Marcos should have then gone for the “secondary targets”: “libraries and bookshops”.

He did not. This wasn't due to dictator’s remorse or oversight. “(Marcos) probably reckoned that the Filipinos are not book readers,” wrote Nemenzo.

Marcos passed an edict against even the mere possession of “subversive documents”. The ultimate cost of criticism against the despot was “disappearance”.
Nemenzo commented that so great was the “nervousness” of UP librarians they removed from the shelves all books about communism AND anti-communism. Only fear of the state auditor stayed their hands from burning the incriminating collections.

Yet, “radical papers” kept turning up in the library, were left on the tables or discreetly deposited on the service desk of the Filipiniana Reading Room, he wrote. Through the cooperation of the three universities, the Radical Papers is now organized and accessible for all.

For keeping these records during an epoch that burned truth and murdered to enshrine lies, the UP Diliman Main librarians deserve the respect of the nation, not just its scholars.

The accounts written by the Left do not constitute truth. Yet, their preservation makes it possible for anyone to scrutinize and test these versions against information contained in other documents.

Through cross-checking, which involves validation or rejection, a semblance of truth emerges. In the post-truth era, that is essential to remember: knowledge comes from sifting through, not stifling the flow.

( 0917 3226131)

* First published in SunStar Cebu’s October 15, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, October 07, 2017


IT has been pouring in this city for days. Not just rain but middle-of-the-term, over-panic’s-edge succession of class requirements.

When it rained, we stayed indoors and read. That childhood rule makes sense except library research means tracking down a book in networks connecting a system of libraries or existing informally among colleagues connected to other systems.

No one I know orders online. Given the labyrinthine process of shipping, an online habit only adds another layer of torture beyond human endurance and government book stipends.

Photocopying—a settlement with intellectual property preferred by Third World academics—often saves the day, or at least deliverance from a deadline.

Yet, our age is so cosseted by the availability of information. Our fingers simply “walk” around a digital system, and we enter the 18th-century circumlocutions of a dead German to confuse our 21st-century sensibilities.

Bibliography is an academic discipline, with multiple specializations in library science, languages, and a particular branch of learning to create the perfect bloodhounds to track and trace all and recent information published in any niche of knowledge.

Did libraries ever shun, instead of usher in, searchers?

In the “Tower of Babel,” Jorge Luis Borges tells a story of generations of librarians driven mad by the search of a room containing just four book shelves hidden in the labyrinth of a library containing twaddle. In another essay, Borges theorized that half a dozen monkeys provided with typewriters can produce all the books that the British Museum can contain.

How does one recognise true from fake knowledge? Borge’s tongue-in-cheek reply is monkey mumbo jumbo: it must have the “25 basic characters (22 letters, the period, the comma, and the space)”.

In the fictional 14th-century library of the Aedificium (“structure” in Latin) at the centre of Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose,” murderous intent is coupled with information glut to keep searchers from ever returning and finding a book.

Eco’s monks are driven actually mad by the belief that the mission handed down to their order by God is all about “preserving, repeating, and defending the treasure of wisdom”.

When martial law was declared on Sept. 21, 1972, the sound of incriminating documents torn and flushed down toilets echoed around the nation (the memory was narrated by Randy David; the exaggeration is mine).

Only to one library did dissidents entrust their papers before many of them disappeared or were made to. Which library hid and later revealed its radical heart?

Reader, the labyrinth opens next week.

( 09173226131)

*First published in SunStar Cebu’s October 8, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Peter panned

TODAY is a double celebration.

As set forth in Republic Act 10868 or the Centenarians Law of 2016, the first Sunday of October is observed as National Respect for Centenarians Day.

Oct. 1 this year also ushers in Elderly Filipino Week.

Why do we honor the elderly? We are not just awed by their feat of longevity. Primarily, we are grateful for the guardianship of our elders.

Contradicting the view that the elderly are past their prime and dependent on the younger and more abled are present realities.

In the gaps created by the global diaspora of workers, grandparents keep the bonds of family. In many Filipino homes, grandparents do not just stand in as surrogate parents; they are often the only parents known by the children of their children.

People die, migrate for work, separate from spouses or generally flop as self-regulating, mature adults. Who frequently takes up the slack?

Even in households where parents are not biological and sociological catastrophes, the elderly are held up as exemplars of a life well-lived and, thus, worth emulating.

Paradoxically, Oct. 1 this year focused my thoughts on a 91-year-old who turned upside down all social expectations, as well as stereotypes, of the elderly.

When Hugh M. Hefner died of natural causes on Sept. 27, 2017, the press reported that he left behind a multimedia empire and a sexual revolution that shows no sign of winding down.

It does not seem much of a legacy.

The empire was built around a magazine whose journalistic highs and lows were bracketed by breakthrough interviews and the centerfold of a nude “playmate of the month.”

The magazine later clothed the “playmates” after conceding its defeat in 2015 by a more aggressive rival, the Internet.

Mr. Hefner said he “decontaminated” sex and chose the “frisky and playful” bunny as the enterprise logo to represent how fun and liberating the Playboy ethos was on the “romantic boy-girl society”.

His worldview was farm-like: “bunnies” were the accessible women in his magazine and in his life, and the “other chicks” were militant feminists, the “natural enemy” getting in the way of all that bunny play.

Even after bedding thousands of willing bunnies, he admitted, in his 80s, that he was still searching for his “soul mate”.

The world will never have enough of this Peter Pan.

“Pan” was one of the names he considered for the magazine. In J. M. Barrie’s stories for children, Peter Pan leads a group of Lost Boys in Neverland. His friendship with the human, Wendy Darling, is frozen because, although she loves him, as the boy who never grows up, he cannot love back.

There is life beyond bunnies and chicks, Mr. Hefner reminds us.

( 0917 3226131)

*First published in SunStar Cebu’s October 1, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”