I have no love lost for the National Book Development Board (NBDB). Never cared for it as an institution, never felt its presence important. In fact the few times I cared enough to attend its annual literary festival, it was unthinkingly called MILF (Manila International Literary Festival), which anyone literate should know also stands for Mothers I Love to F*%#.
At least that year’s MILF worked with a theme and title based on a Philippine novel and called itself “The Great Philippine Book Café.” The following year wasn’t as lucky: they decided to call it “The Read Lit District.”
Yes, a play on the red light district. Prostitution and its injustices are apparently reason for punning. One wonders who thought that creative. Or humorous. It was neither.
Now I would care even less for the NBDB were it not a government institution “mandated to develop and support the Philippine book publishing industry.” Its Vision speaks of the organization being “the leading catalyst for building a culture of reading and authorship as well as an environment for the growth of the book publishing industry towards making it globally competitive.” Its Mission is “to promote the continuing development of the book publishing industry, with the active participation of the private sector, to ensure an adequate supply of affordable, quality- produced books not only for the domestic market but also for export.”
It all sounds good on paper doesn’t it?
I’ve written elsewhere about that MILF I attended in 2011, complete with unprepared young writers functioning as panelists and that steep P2000 price tag. I haven’t gone since, but was all set to do so in 2013, when it was going to be held in the four larger universities (Ateneo de Manila, University of Sto. Tomas, De La Salle University, and the University of the Philippines Diliman) showcasing the literary establishment as they exist within the academe as well. I thought it was interesting enough —and it was open to the public for free—that I had planned on doing all four days.
But then Typhoon Haiyan happened that same week, and going to a literary festival just seemed shameful and embarrassing. All over the country fiestas and events were cancelled in light of the devastation that Haiyan wrought, and so we could all redirect our energies towards relief efforts (and anger of course). One hopes the NBDB actually cancelled the lit fest, too.
Because that is our taxes at work. What makes this government office move, its budget for its events and talks, big and small, that is people’s money. And when the people are in need, it seems right to cease and desist from spending their money on such a superfluous thing as a literary festival.
Non-national in nature
And this is the thing really, with a cultural institution like the NBDB: it lives off people’s money, but it is far from even being inclusive. And we’re not even talking about trying to keep track of all publishers, independent and otherwise, and all writers, established and otherwise. We’re just talking about acknowledging and validating that the alternatives to the mainstream exist, that there are small publishing houses, and even smaller shoestring efforts that come out with books year-in, year-out.
We’re talking about how the NBDB might be part of the National Book Awards, yet it refuses to actually effect changes in this purportedly “national” award giving body.
Like you know, by default including all books published within a given year, and actually working toward being truly national in nature?
Instead of waiting for the Manila Critics Circle—itself a group that’s guilty of patronage politics the way it’s always been done within the literary establishment—one cannot understand why NBDB does not have the balls to throw its weight around and insist—nay demand—that the rules change. A publisher need not nominate any one book—each book by default is a nominee.
Because it is just archaic, it is exclusionary and in fact is an injustice, that all books (and in effect all authors) are not included in the roster of nominees for an award-giving body that sells itself as “national” in nature. One would understand and forgive the NBA’s limitations were we still in the 90’s, when the literary establishment wasn’t up against the productivity of comics creators and writers, of writers and artist groups and collectives, of independent publishing beyond the vanity publishing tag.
In the year 2014, the call for nominations to the National Book Awards just reminds of how out-of-touch, how removed, the official institutions for writing and books are from the state of the publishing and writing and book industries.
A publisher is also only allowed to nominate any of the books in its roster upon submission of its SEC Registration papers. There go the independents. The ones that NBDB is mandated to represent and protect as well.
Ah, but it gets worse. The imminent Asean integration seems to have gotten mainstream publishing and the literary establishment quite rattled, and it ain’t quite clear why. All I know and have heard of is how publishers and the NBDB have been going all out trying to get a handle on things before the Asean comes in.
Or you know: trying to establish control over the writing and bookmaking world via talks and conversations over coffee and panels devoted to writers’ rights, e.g., copyright atbp. And yet a look at who speaks in these panels reeks of the literary establishment and mainstream publishers being “the voice” of knowledge and reason.
Where instead of talking to younger writers about what they must guard against, what they must concern themselves with, how they might navigate being writers given the literary and publishing system, what we are treated to is the voice of the privileged, speaking about writing like that privilege does not exist.
Or we have the NBDB attaching its name to words like “alternative publishing,” a concept that everything else about it as an institution actually stands against. A struggling industry it has ignored in word and in deed all these years. It’s presenting itself as the writing and publishing industry’s one true voice. In the process, it misrepresents all of us who refuse to deal with the NBDB altogether.
It seems to me that what is at stake here really is big business, and it’s losing business that the NBDB is so freaking afraid of. The moment the Asean publishers can freely come in and offer writers better publishing deals, how many will actually stay with the few and mighty publishers that the NBDB protects? The moment the Asean comes in, and does not care for the NBDB’s registry of authors to choose who they might publish, or the SEC registration of independent publishers, the NBDB becomes irrelevant and useless.
It should rename itself the National Textbook Development Board—it seems to be doing a good job with that. Then we might be getting somewhere. In the meantime, it should quit using the ideas and concepts we hold dear to get some Asean mileage. The alternative does not become you, not one bit.