By Neni Sta. Romana Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Saturday, November 16, 2013

The week of Nov. 11-16 was a coup of sorts for the National Book Development Board as it mounted the 4th Philippine International Literary Festival, dubbed “Text and the City,” in an innovative new format: a deliberate strategy conceptualized by NBDB deputy executive director Camille V. De la Rosa to reach a wider audience.

In partnership with the institutions’ creative writing centers, the celebration of the written and spoken word featured five different, daylong literary activities for professionals and for students, and a roster of foreign guests besides, every day of the week. The University of Santo Tomas began the week, followed by De La Salle University, Ateneo de Manila University, University of the Philippines, and then to Ayala Museum—a welcoming home of the festivals in the past two years.

The week ended with the conferring of the 32nd National Book Awards by the Manila Critics Circle and the NBDB for the most outstanding books published in 2012. President Aquino’s message to the winning authors, designers, and publishers gives us pause: “Let your words stimulate your readers’ minds and nourish their spirits that in today’s milieu of increasing uncertainty, your craft may guide people in their journey of self-actualization.”
There can never be enough emphasis given to books and reading (an old, tired, heartbreaking refrain from me, I am aware of that) despite the many labels that have been associated with the month of November. For many years, thanks to President Manuel Quezon’s 1937 proclamation, we have been celebrating the third week of November as National Book Week. President Cory Aquino’s 1991 proclamation designated November as Library and Information Services Month. In 1999, President Joseph Estrada declared June as Philippine Book Development Month, to coincide with the birth of the NBDB on June 7, 1995.

However, with educational institutions busy with school-opening concerns, better school participation seemed more feasible in the month of November. Thus, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo made the move official in 2008.
Education Secretary Armin Luistro, in Department of Education Memorandum No. 244 s. 2011, has also ensured that teachers and students actively participate in promoting reading consciousness and love for reading by mandating November as National Reading Month.

To further bolster Luistro’s directive, last May 15 President Aquino signed Republic Act No. 10556 to formalize the annual celebration in Quezon City of Araw ng Pagbasa on Nov. 27, birthday of known book lover and martyred hero Ninoy Aquino. This is meant to be the culminating day of National Reading Month for all elementary and secondary schools—and also a reminder to focus on the lives and writings of Ninoy Aquino and other great Filipinos. The new law likewise encourages schools to use regional languages to make reading sessions even more relevant and meaningful.

It is to the credit of Quezon City Rep. Jorge Banal that in 2008 when he was still a councilor, Araw ng Pagbasa first began as a citywide initiative. Last year, P-Noy led the celebration by being a guest storyteller in a Quezon City public school; he read “Halu Halo Espesyal,” written by Yvette Ferreol and illustrated by Jill Arwen Posadas. We are looking forward to his reading this month. It should be a pleasant and refreshing respite from politics for the President to visit a public school classroom once again.

And just as we wind up the book month of November, the NBDB is launching a special read-aloud series. It began in late October with a reading visit for the Hospicio de San Jose residents. Scheduled for Nov. 26 is one for 100 preschoolers in Barangay San Antonio (Pasig), in partnership with Asa Almario Montejo of Adarna House. There will be also be storytelling tips for the teachers who work in daycare centers. Pasig is a logical place to begin as the NBDB office is in the neighborhood.

On Nov. 29, another read-aloud visit is set at the Apolonio Samson Elementary School in Quezon City with the support of its principal, Eloisa Tamon. This is one of the 10 schools where Teach for the Philippines has its first cohort of fellows.

The morning program for Grade 5 students will feature Noel Cabangon, who will read and sing from his book, “Ako’y Isang Mabuting Filipino,” which elicits an emotional response whether in malls among schoolchildren or in performance halls among adults. A PETA ensemble will perform “Ang Galing ng Mommy Ko” by Segundo Matias Jr., publisher of Lampara Books.

The highlight of the morning is an interaction between children and our celebrity guest, Gilda Cordero Fernando. And who knows just what GCF has up her sleeve? She has much to share—her experiences as a reader and a writer, her fascination with Philippine creatures of the underworld (thus her insistence on “older” children), even her latest book, “The Magic Circle,” winner of this year’s National Book Award for best design.

Oh, to have books on our mind all year long.

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ( [email protected]) is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of Teach for the Philippines, and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.