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Senator Loren Legarda:‘It is high time to share Filipino stories — told in our own voices.’ | Philstar.com
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Senator Loren Legarda:‘It is high time to share Filipino stories — told in our own voices.’

ARTMAGEDDON - Igan D’Bayan - The Philippine Star
Senator Loren Legarda:âIt is high time to share Filipino stories â told in our own voices.â
Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda, the project principal and visionary behind the country’s bid for Guest of Honour status at the Frankfurter Buchmesse, explains, “In showcasing Filipino writers and publishers at the Frankfurt Book Fair, we celebrate the enduring legacy of our literature and affirm its relevance in today’s interconnected world. By amplifying our voices, we bring forth an authentic and diverse representation of the Filipino experience, contributing to the global discourse and enriching the collective literary consciousness.”

Salman Rushdie. Margaret Atwood. Neil Gaiman. Paulo Coelho. These are some of the authors who have attended the Frankfurt Book Fair or Frankfurter Buchmesse, the world’s largest trade fair for books.

In this day and age of Jewish Space Lasers, the Gazpacho Police, Wonton Killings, and other batsh*t crazy conspiracy theories, people really prefer reading good fictional books over doom-scrolling bits of “alternative facts” splattered across the hell-site formerly known as Twitter, or some nonsensical singsong verses from Pinkydoll on TikTok. (“Ice Cream so good!”)

Emmanuel Calairo, chair of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP); Ino Manalo, chair of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA); Simone Bühler, head of the Guest of Honour Programme of Frankfurter Buchmesse; Juergen Boos; Senator Legarda; Claudia Kaiser; Dante Francis Ang II; and Neni Sta. Romana-Cruz during the recent inter-agency meeting for the 2025 Frankfurter Buchmesse held at the National Museum of Anthropology.

Literature still matters. Writers still have an audience. Books are still coveted, believe it or not. In 2007, a German tabloid assembled a list of “titles stolen most often from the stands of 15 leading German publishers” at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Dan Brown with his Diabolus was one of the leaders in “steals” in past years; The Da Vinci Code author was “him” for a long spell. (Written word so good!) And books still scare the bejesus out of fascists.

Senator Legarda and Juergen Boos, president and CEO of Frankfurter Buchmesse in Frankfurt, Germany

“The guardians of freedom of speech are to be found in publishing,” said Salman Rushdie in 2015 at the Frankfurt Book Fair. “Publishers and writers are not warriors. We have no tanks. But it falls to us to hold the line.”

Margaret Atwood, the “prophet of dystopia” according to The New Yorker, received the highly esteemed Peace Price at the fair in 2017. It is interesting to note that Atwood wrote the first draft of The Handmaid’s Tale on a rented German typewriter when she was in the still-divided Berlin in 1984. Three years later she went to the Frankfurt Book Fair to promote the German translation of her book, which is arguably more relevant today than in the decade when it was written. Blessed be the fruit, indeed.

Thus, it is essential for Philippine authors and publishers, the entire industry itself, to participate in such a prestigious platform that fosters intercultural exchange. Like our country’s participation in the Venice Biennale which brings Filipino art and architecture to the spotlight, it is important that the Philippines becomes a participant in the global literary landscape.

This is according to Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda, who recently announced that the Philippines has been granted Guest of Honour status at the Frankfurter Buchmesse 2025. The Philippines will be the second ASEAN country to receive the distinction of Guest of Honour after Indonesia in 2015.

“The privilege of being the Guest of Honour goes beyond the realm of publishing,” she explains. “It presents a unique platform to enhance our country’s reputation, leading to a positive impact on art and culture, and the branding of our expanding exports in other creative sectors such as film, music, architecture, as well as the contributions of our hard-working overseas Filipino workers in the labor and services sectors. It is also an opportunity for cultural discourse.”

Being the Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair holds great potential in bringing about changes in our publishing industry, according to the senator. This prestigious position can yield tangible and substantial economic benefits, such as an increase in the number of book exports, sales of translation rights and other derivative rights, and publication opportunities for our writers, editors, artists and book designers. Additionally, it offers us the chance to deepen our connections with global networks of publishers and cultural institutions.

“This opportunity allows us to shed the constraints of colonial frames and celebrate our rich heritage on a global platform. By reclaiming our heritage and sharing it with the international community, we can showcase our vibrant and authentic narratives to foster greater understanding and appreciation.”

Senator Legarda has been pushing for this distinction as Guest of Honor in the world’s oldest and most prestigious book fair since 2016. It was late in 2015 when Karina Bolasco, then director of the Ateneo de Manila University Press, presented the idea of participating in the fair, and the senator supported it all the way.

The senator explains, “As Guest of Honour, we will be in a unique, prominent position in the global arena to show our publishing industry’s creativity and intellectual prowess. I have worked tirelessly for this, together with then National Book Development Board (NBDB) chair Neni Sta. Romana Cruz and board members Karina Bolasco and Ani Almario. After eight years, we have finally clinched that honor and distinction thanks to the support and hard work of present NBDB chair Dante Francis Ang II and executive director Charisse Tugade.”

The Frankfurt Book Fair or Frankfurter Buchmesse is the largest international trade fair for the book publishing industry, the most important marketplace for book rights, and a venue for cultural exchange among different countries. It is a five-day annual event held every October in Frankfurt, Germany organized by Frankfurter Buchmesse GmbH, a subsidiary of the German Publishers and Booksellers organization. It draws about 7,000 exhibitors and over 200,000 visitors every year.

The first three days of the fair are restricted to trade visitors, which include publishers, authors, illustrators, literary agents, book distributors, books associations, librarians, printers and other service providers. On the weekend, the fair is open to the general public.

Since 1976, the Frankfurter Buchmesse has been naming a Guest of Honour (GOH) country whose publishing industry and other cultural products become the highlight of the fair. The GOH country is given a special pavilion, which features major publishers and other important industry representatives of the country.

The official Guest of Honor contract was signed last Aug. 18 in Davao City by Frankfurt Book Fair president and CEO Juergen Boos and the officials of NBDB, led by chair Dante Francis Ang II and executive director Charisse Tugade. Senator Legarda, who spoke as the keynote speaker of the Philippine Book Festival in Davao, stressed the importance of such events for the enrichment of the education of many. The challenging and arduous plan to make the project a reality will be done with the close partnership of the following agencies, namely, the NBDB, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the Department of Education (DepEd), and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

“Filipino writers and publishers possess a distinct voice and perspective that enriches the global literary landscape. It is high time for the international community to recognize the value and importance of Filipino stories, told in our own voices and reflecting the complex dynamics shaped by our colonial and post-colonial experiences.”

Neil Gaiman once said, “A book is a dream that you hold in your hands.”

A book fair is where dreams and dreamers congregate.

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SENATOR LOREN LEGARDA

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