PGTW: In support of Filipino knowledge

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 19 March 2015, Thursday

In support of Filipino knowledge

Does the Philippines have a reading culture?

Arguments may be made for both yea and nay, with the former pointing to the growth of the chain bookstores as an indicator of the steady sale of books, while the latter will grumble at the overwhelming consumption of television as a medium over the printed word.

It certainly is a fact that the country is far behind in its reading habits compared to, say, Japan or the United States. Yet the government, through the National Book Development Board (NBDB), is looking to promote Filipino authors and publishing by providing grants to those who would not otherwise be able to finish a manuscript or transform a research work into a book for the general public.

Last March 13, NBDB Trust Fund grants for 2014 were awarded to Darwin J. Absari for his “Pag-tuhan: Tausug Gnosis as a Living Tradition” in the field of Islamic studies, and under the field biodiversity/health and wellness, to Amado C. Bajarias Jr. for his “The Birds of Ateneo de Manila University, Miriam College, and UP Diliman,” Grace Quiton-Domingo for her “MPA for Teachers: A Fun Activity Guide that Illustrates the Science Behind Marine-Protected Areas,” and Rosario I. Tañedo for her “Come Back to Me: Lives Taken, Shaken, and Changed by the Lack of Reproductive Health Rights.”

NBDB was created under Republic Act No. 8047 (1995), the Book Publishing Industry Development Act. Its mandate is to be “the leading catalyst for building a culture of reading and authorship as well as an environment for the growth of the book publishing industry toward making it globally competitive”.

RA No. 9521 (2009), the National Book Development Trust Fund Act, sourced funding for a trust fund for NBDB’s programs and activities from the General Appropriations Act and from government-owned and –controlled corporations Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation and Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.

The NBDB Trust Fund provides grants of P200,000 to an individual or organization for the completion of manuscripts or research works for publication, especially in the field of science and technology, “and in subject areas where locally-authored books are few and non-existent.”

Each year, the agency puts out a call for manuscripts in certain subject areas. A panel of experts assists the NBDB in evaluating submitted manuscripts.

This year, the topics are local history and culture; traditional medicine; integrative medicine and tropical medicine; food science and technology, organic agriculture, sustainable agriculture, and agritourism; and popular science, for example, robotics and inventions.

Among the subject areas in previous years were documentation or codification of any traditional knowledge; habitat rehabilitation and social impacts; new technologies in entrepreneurship; livelihoods; and fiction and non-fiction book-length literary works.

Authors and organizations applying for grants must submit at least 25 percent of their manuscripts or research works that will be turned into books. Check out the agency’s website at for application forms and other details. The deadline for submission of applications is May 31.

According to NBDB Executive Director Graciela Mendoza-Cayton, “We tend to broadly interpret the categories, so we advise writers to just apply, because there are so many unexplored research areas.”

She cited as an example a dearth of documentation of the history and folklore of Mindanao, and suggested that more authors concentrate their efforts in identifying and exploring similarly under-researched areas.

Right after the grant-awarding ceremony, Cayton dashed off for the “Booklatan sa Laoag” event over the weekend, where author and illustrator Adam David taught fanzine writing and other activities were conducted.

Upcoming agency events include a copyright clinic on March 28, “AK/DA: Araw ng Aklat at Copyright” on April 23, while the whole month of April is “Buwan ng Panitikan” (Literature Month) as provided for by Presidential Proclamation No. 968, signed last 10 February 2015. Major bookish activities are scheduled for the second half of the year.

The agency, Cayton says, can also help authors publish their works through both traditional and non-traditional means.

Usually printing is not the difficult part – it’s distributing the books. “We have contacted distributors,” she said, “who can put the books in outlets other than the chain bookstores, to get them to a wider audience.”

I’d say NBDB’s efforts not only promote and embed a reading culture, they also support the collection, preservation, and creation of kaalaman – Filipino knowledge. For we never stop doing and learning; the thing is to write it down, and to get those writings in as many minds as possible.

The development of a country and its people is possible only when ideas are allowed to flourish and proliferate; and a society that values books and authors and knowledge has the advantage over those that do not. ***

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