The Filipino Author in the Time of Pandemic Message of Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda Online Philippine Event, Special Edition Frankfurt Buchmesse | 2020 17 October 2020

October 21, 2020

Good afternoon.

I am honored to take part in this important event although it is with a heavy heart that I am addressing you virtually right now. The Philippines has maintained its continuous physical presence at the Frankfurter Buchmesse (FBM) since 2015.  I remember that we started back then with a very modest stand. But last year, we were able to make it at Frankfurt with a 120 square-meter booth. Fast forward to today, given the pandemic we are facing, almost everyone else is forced to go digital, and Frankfurter Buchmesse is not exempted from this.

Signals of Hope

This year’s theme at Frankfurt is SIGNALS OF HOPE. It aims to facilitate discourses that are more urgent than ever this year.  During the opening ceremonies, we heard Prof. Monika Grütters, Germany’s minister of culture and media, talk about identity, diversity and discrimination. Of course we also have the global pandemic of COVID-19 as one of the more pressing issues.

The pandemic has greatly affected the publishing industry, with trade and commerce coming to a halt, and with one book fair to another being forced either to be cancelled or to be held using digital platforms instead.

The creative minds of the global publishing industry however will not be stifled by this crisis. In fact, the publishing industry has turned this challenge into anextraordinary opportunity. The pandemic has thus led to the launch of a Frankfurter Buchmesse Special edition. FBM President and CEO Juergen Boos has noted that it has been a stressful year but everyone has been fighting hard for the book fair to push through. Holding the fair this year, despite the physical restrictions, is a signal of hope in itself.

Cholera Outbreak of 1882

This makes me think of the Cholera outbreak in the Philippines in the late 1800s. Cholera passed like an Angel of Death in the Philippines in 1882.  Then, almost every towns hospital was filled with sick people. All the dead, whoever they were, were not taken to church anymore but wereimmediately taken to the mountains to be buried.

The Cholera outbreak of 1882 also gave birth to the first novel written by a Filipino and the first Asian novel writtenin the Spanish language. NINAY by Pedro Alejandro Paterno was published in 1885 against the grim backdrop of the Philippine Cholera outbreak. NINAY hailed itself as a fictional-historical archive and literary ethnography, conceived as intrinsically hybrid, fundamentally an amalgam of Spanish and Asiatic elements. The novel makes reference to particular and idiosyncratic aspects of Philippine tradition, explicating its relationship with the Spanish colonial bond that constituted the Philippines as a national territory and overseas possession.  

NINAY frames itself in the Filipino tradition of extended act of mourning or the pasiám. It is this structure that frames the treatment of Nínay’s significance as a ghostly figure that haunts, around whose phantasmic presence a community of mourners is created and a new kind of discourse is generated: what could be called as the spectral allegory of La Filipinidad. 

The Cholera outbreak of 1882 had thus then presented itself as an opportunity, through literary authorship, to recognizeour own identity as Filipino people amidst the Spanish colonial regime.

Identity, representation, and individuality amidst oppression also bring me back to Prof. Monika Grütters, who quotedCanadian superstar author Margaret Atwood. Refusal to look at the individual is at the same time a refusal to believe in the individual. You cannot be a writer without believing in the individuality of the person.

Let us HOPE that the COVID-19 pandemic will result inmore meaningful interactions and outcomes.

Singular Plurality

Canada is this year’s FBM Guest of Honour and will remain as such until 2021 when we hope to resume with the on-site book fair. Canada’s theme is SINGULAR PLURALITY. This talks about their unique diversity, in terms of ethnicity, individuality, and literature.

When talking about Singular Plurality, I cannot help but to think also of the Philippines.  The Philippines is home to ethnolinguistic groups that are characterized by their diversity in language, culture and heritage, which for me should be showcased to the global community.

I have not been remiss with that. I have always supported our authors, artists, and artisans in various local and international endeavors.

We have many talented and ingenious writers, artists and illustrators whose works should be proudly shown in important venues such as the Frankfurt Book Fair. We are diversely unique, and I want to create more opportunities for them, whether through additional funding or through my personal representation to the organizers of the book fair.

I see the Frankfurter Buchmesse as the world’s most important marketplace for print and digital content, and it presents a venue for the Philippines to stimulate the interest of the international community in our own literature.

That is why in 2017, the Philippines, through the National Book Development Board (NBDB), has expressed its intentto be the Guest of Honour (GOH) at the Frankfurter Buchmesse in 2024 or beyond. But we have to skip another year because of the pandemic. Our pandemic revised goal now is to be Guest of Honour in 2025.

So is there enough discussion in global publishing about Philippine authorship?

To be translated is to be understood outside of your cultural niche.  To encourage more people to read Philippine authorship, the Philippines, again through NBDB, aims to make Filipino content more accessible through translation of content.  This initiative is envisioned to SPRING UP HOPEto increase the number of Philippine authorship and content translated, published, and distributed outside of the Philippines.

The Frankfurter Buchmesse plays a great role in trading and translation of Philippine authorship.  This has been the biggest platform so far to support the Philippine publishing sector to reach the global market. This international book fair is very much committed to “enabling, helping, setting up publishing infrastructure all over the world.” As Frankfurter Buchmesse President and CEO Juergen Boos once said, “Translations are the most important thing to understand other cultures.”

Thank you and keep safe always.