Saturday, May 24, 2008

Good works

LAST Thursday’s downpour brought anew the threat of flash floods, garbage-clogged drainage and homelessness in many barangays.

Though I arrived, dry and unmarked, at the Grand Convention Center moments before that rain storm, I was driven almost out of my mind by a different case involving barangays.

Visiting only on the last day of the 35th Annual Albasa Book Fair held last May 20-22, I missed books I had been tracking with all the obsession and lack of restraint of a 16th-century ship-raiding pirate.

One of them was William Henry Scott’s “Barangay: Sixteenth-Century Philippine Culture and Society.” This has been off the shelves in the local outlets of this national chain of bookstores for almost a decade.

True, Cebu has become a cosmopolitan mall brat. No one here will have difficulty procuring a copy of any title shortlisted under the latest version of any American, British or continental list of bestsellers and critics’ choices.

But Scott’s account of the Philippines at the time of the Spanish contact—winner of the 1994 National Book Award for History and the 1998 Gintong Aklat Award for Social Scienc—is nowhere to be seen in the malls dotting Cebu.

If awards and critics leave you cold, you might still want to get your hands on a copy of “Barangay,” if only to check out why it is arguably the best-loved of the books written by Scotty, the only non-Filipino teaching Philippine history in the University of the Philippines for many years.

The Episcopalian lay missionary earned respect as “the white Filipino nationalist historian” who wrote, taught and rescued our history from being buried under mistranslation, misinformation and myths.

As “Great Scott: The New Day William Henry Scott Reader” points out, to read Scott is to be “reminded not only of Napoleon’s characteristically iconoclastic bon mot, ‘What is history but a fable agreed upon?’”

Any parent or teacher concerned that students will not languish under a common Social Studies misconception that the barangay was a Bagong Lipunan innovation of the late Ferdinand Marcos should hunt down a personal copy of “Barangay.”

Though I had to content myself with ordering the titles last Thursday—not only “Barangay” proved to be elusive; all five sets of the three-volume “History of the Bisayan People in the Philippine Islands” by Ignacio Francisco Alcina, SJ, were sold out at the fair—I am consoled that many schools turned up and replenished their library collections at the fair.

Established in 1973, the Academic Libraries Book Acquisition Systems Association (Albasa, Inc.) annually conducts its general assembly and book fair in Cebu. It provides an essential and unappreciated public service not only to its member schools but also individual readers.

During the Albasa book fair, there are seminars and opportunities to buy at discounted prices book titles that are deemed not commercial and thus not carried by most book stores.

Though the exhibitors include distributors of foreign publications, what I consider to be the chief draw in the Albasa Book Fair are the local publishers. If public discourse seems parched and bereft of hope, it cannot be blamed on the institutions that have the courage, vision and will to produce titles that may never become bestsellers, be sold as mall fodder, and yet more than deserve the trees that were felled to produce the paper used in its printing.

Yes, a lot of improvements can still be done for Filipiniana, a genre eternally marginalized in many a bookstore and library. Many titles are still priced beyond the reach of many wage earners. In some cases, the paper used, binding and book design make one more conscious of and disgruntled about the discrepancy between the book’s price and packaging.

More Filipiniana books should also reflect “provincial” interests and concerns, not just those of imperial Manila or the commercially safe “national interest.”

However, it is no less than an act of nationalism to produce through the years the publications that make one proud to be born in this country: the University of the Philippines Press, the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House (publisher of the monumental and seminal Alcina history), Ateneo de Manila University Press (publisher of “Barangay” and many award winners), New Day Publishers (which carries many of Scott’s works) and Ibon Foundation (I grew up reading Ibon Facts & Figures, one of the earliest attempts to make student-friendly economic analysis).

If people are still writing books about this country, and people are still reading them, then it’s not yet time to abandon ship. 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s May 25, 2008 issue

No comments: