The Philippines just held its national literature month last April, but it doesn't mean the celebration is one and done. There are still concerns about reading poverty and influx of foreign titles, among other things.
That's why the National Book Development Board (NBDB) is launching what it touts as the country's largest book festival to date, the Philippine Book Festival (PBF).
This year's inaugural PBF will have two editions: one at the World Trade Center Metro Manila from June 2 to 4, and another at SMX Davao from Aug. 18 to 20.
The NBDB said the event won't be a mere selling of books. There will be several activities that aim to not only entertain bookworms, but also uphold Filipino literature, culture, and history.
Activities include a special meet-and-greet with celebrated figures in the local literary scene like historian and columnist Ambeth Ocampo, Gwy Saludes of Rain of España fame, and Kikomachine Komix creator Manix Abrera.
Actress Rica Peralejo-Bonifacio will also hold a special program for her debut book on marriage, Eleven Eleven: Painting the Challenge and Beauty of Marriage, which she co-wrote with her husband Joe Bonifacio.
To reinforce the need to champion local literature, all books sold are from Filipino authors.
The titles coming from over 150 presenters will be divided into four "realms" as curated by the Book Development Association of the Philippines (BDAP), Komiket, the Philippine Educational Publishers Association, and the Philippine Board on Books for Young People:
Komiks, for graphic novels; Kid Lit, for children's literature; Booktopia, for fiction and nonfiction titles, including award-winning ones; and Aral Aklat, for educational materials.
As the NBDB puts it, it’s not just a book fair but a book experience.
During the PBF's media launch attended by PhilSTAR L!fe, NBDB Executive Director Charisse Aquino-Tugade said everybody must work together to ensure that Filipinos have access to local literature, especially that the industry is a "very small" one.
"We need access to our own stories," Aquino-Tugade said. "We want to ensure that there is space that we give our own voice primacy."
Aquino-Tugade also lamented the apparent long-standing love for foreign writers, especially in bookstores and other book festivals.
“How come we know about all of these global authors, but we don’t even know the works of our own? We have amazing Filipino-authored content yet we lack access," she said.
BDAP President Andrea Pasion-Flores, who's also the owner and publisher of Milflores Publishing, meanwhile sounded the alarm on the country's learning poverty, or the rate in which children who cannot read or understand simple texts meant for 10-year-olds.
The World Bank in June 2022 reported, that the Philippines has a learning poverty of 90.9%, representing 9 out of 10 children.
"The initiative to make people read books is urgent," Pasion-Flores said. "This effort involves everybody."
Maria Carolina Tapia, chief of NBDB's business and trade development division, added that there will be discounts and other promos during the PBF.
Aquino-Tugade is hoping for the PBF to become a regular event taking place in parts of the country. She said the PBF is set to take place in the Visayas region next year.
"The last few years have been mostly online, and we felt that we need that kind of personal touch, the need to see the community," she said. "We hope this event will last in perpetuity."
The Philippine Book Festival is free of charge but requires registration at www.philippinebookfest.com.