Saturday, May 05, 2012

A landmark moves

ON its last day, I visited the Cebuano Studies Center.

Towards noon of May 4, a crowd filed out of the Theodore Buttenbruch Hall of the University of San Carlos (USC), where media associations and their partners just organized a forum on decriminalizing libel, a day after World Press Freedom Day.

I joined my fellow teacher at the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu, lawyer Ian Manticajon, under the trees to munch on the snacks prepared by the organizers.

While chatting, we saw Lauren Ligaton hobbling along.

Lauren is a member of the editorial team that is putting together the 55 volumes that comprise the Cebu Provincial History. Targeted for launching this August, the town histories will become part of history, a precedent in recording local history and tapping writers of varying persuasions—academic, literary, journalistic, political, all impassioned—to make public high school students interested in our “continuing past,” from the period before colonization by Spain to contemporary times.

As writers, Ian and I worked with Lauren on this project. Initially, research and writing was targeted to be completed in a year. The production of manuscripts dragged for years, involving developments as cataclysmic as the ones that shook towns and rewrote community destinies.

I got to know Lauren well because for years, I saw him first to be assured that, despite my writer’s block and history-sized hang-ups, my editors were sparing my neck so I could stop the endless rewriting and move on to the next bloody chapter.

Ian and I were thus shocked to see Lauren, eternally upbeat, using a crutch and hobbling with a bandaged foot. The second shock was when Lauren invited us to visit the Cebuano Studies Center on its last day in its location in the bowels of the university.

In college, when my UP Cebu Mass Communication professors introduced me to research, I paid my first visit to the Cebuano Studies Center.

If students and faculty form the bloodlines of a university, the library is its central nervous system. The USC is blessed to have more than one library, even several excellent ones.

My attachment, though, is to the Cebuano Studies Center. As an undergraduate researcher, I realized that the Cebuano Studies Center wasn’t just the only definitive source of references about Cebu in USC but in the whole province, perhaps in the whole country.

While researching for the Cebu Provincial History project, I confirmed that this library was as good a place to start to know Cebu. It gathered in one place a motley crowd of writers and readers—both the scholarly and the amateur—made curious by Cebu.

Even journalism—preoccupied by the current and the transitory—achieved a permanency, even a telling poignancy, because the library preserved enough colonial and prewar samples to show how journalism, when it began in Cebu, was a far cry from the journalism we know today.

In helping us remember who we were, the Cebuano Studies Center upholds not just access of information but makes possible remembrance and reflection.

While the main library floors above attracted always a crowd, including those who love their sleep more passionately than books, the Cebuano Studies Center seemed to attract the same type: readers. In this august company, I indulged a clandestine passion: people-watching.

On lucky days, Dr. Resil Mojares, professor emeritus, would be writing or reading in his niche, a few feet away from where I was reading his book or essay. If I wanted help with Cebuano literature, Dr. Linda Alburo was always gracious to pause in her encoding and advise.

Of course, during the historical delays of my history-writing, while waiting for my editors in the cold and silent library, it wasn’t difficult to imagine how, during World War II, the Imperial Army tortured guerillas and prisoners of war within these very walls.

The same thick walls of the library have, over the years, absorbed impassively the riotous passions of men and women. I hope to be given the chance again to read to oblivion when the Cebuano Studies Center resurfaces, wherever and whenever it gets resurrected.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s May 6, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

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