Promoting Public Awareness of the Philippine Documentary Heritage
By: Nick Deocampo*
The advocacy to raise public consciousness regarding the world's threatened documentary heritage is at the heart of UNESCO's Memory of the World (MOW) Program. Thousands of the world's books, films, sound and music recordings, artefacts, and other recorded documents vanish as they face physical deterioration and destruction from wars, floods, technological obsolescence and sheer human neglect.
The situation regarding the state of documentary heritage is no less grave in the Philippines as it is in in other parts of the world. How many of the country's books printed in the country since Doctrina Christiana was first published in Tondo in the 16th century have been preserved? How much of the country's ancient indigenous syllabary carved in barks of trees, copper plates, or stone artefacts have survived and been kept in proper custody? Where are the films to preserve the cultural memory and the audio-visual culture of Filipinos since motion pictures were first introduced during the end of the Spanish period? Which among the country's ancient oral chants and traditional myths have been recorded and stored for future generations to be appreciated as part of our country's cultural heritage? How will the present digital generation preserve the electronic memories generated by computers and other technological devices?
In order to address the endangered state of the country's documentary heritage, the UNESCO Philippine National Commission worked hand in hand with the Center for New Cinema to undertake a public awareness program to bring to mind the significance of documents in preserving the Filipinos' cultural, historical and social memories. This was made possible through a series of Documentary Heritage Seminars that were held in three different parts of the country: August 21 at the National Iloilo High School in Iloilo City, September 5 at the University of San Carlos in Cebu City and September 11 at the Ayala Museum in Makati City. These partner institutions provided the much-needed supportto gather together documentary stakeholders. The sites were chosen for the rich cultural heritage that could be found in the documents that are stored in those cities' archives, museums and personal collections. The choice of these sites does not bar the future possibility ofholding similar seminars in other parts of the country such as in the upland Cordillera and in the Muslim south.
The three-city seminar series was overwhelmingly participated in by local luminaries and active practitioners in the documentary heritage sector. These included archivists, librarians, museum administrators, government custodians, tourism officials, personal collectors, scholars, historians, media practitioners, religious school administrators, teachers, students, and the general public.
In holding the seminars, results far exceeded the organizers' expectations. Drawing up seminar programs for each of the sites, the expectations revolved around the following:
- Create public awareness about the significance of documents in preserving cultural, historical and social memory, bringing to public recognition the UNESCO agency in-charge of documentary heritage-the Memory of the World (MOW) Program ;
- Solicit support in scouting for new entries to be nominated to the UNESCO MOW International, Regional and National Registries.
Several speakers were invited to speak on their knowledge of the role that documents fulfill in creating historical memory. Among them include in Iloilo: Dr. Alicia Magos, foremost scholar on the epic oral chants of Central Panay island called the "Hinilawod"; Atty. Rodolfo Cabado, author of the first local cultural heritage ordinance protecting local cultural sites, objects and practices; in Cebu: Dr. Hope Yu, Director of the Cebuano Studies Center, a rich repository of print documents about Cebuano life; Dr. Paul Grant, a film scholar and professor at the forefront in researching and preserving Cebuano film heritage; in Makati: Dr. Bernardita Churchill, President of the Philippine National Historical Society and The Manila Studies Conference, who provided historical context on the coutnry's rich documentary heritage tradition, Ms. Bel Capul, who spoke on the institutionalization of UNESCO's "Memory of the World" Program in the Philippines, TessyAng See, who provided revealing documents showing early Chinese-Filipino realtins through documents, and representatives from the National Library, Malacanang Presidential Library and the ABS CBn Archive.
Based on the outcome of the seminars in the three city-sites, the overwhelming response from local participants resulted to a coming together of the local documentary stakeholders. New communities and networks begin to form among these institutions and individuals all sharing the same concern to preserve and provide public access to the documents relevant to the local communities.
As a concrete result from the holding of the seminars, the following activities fostering the preservation of documents were spurred:
- In Iloilo, there was an immediate search for the Landa-Jocano audio tapes of the Hinilawod epic chants taken in 1956 in open reel tapes. There was excitement when the tapes were found in the library collection at the Central Philippine University (CPU). Urgent communications were made by CPU with the U.P. College of Music Center for ethno-musicology to determine if those tapes were newly-found or already included in the Center's collection;
- A Conference on Panay Sugidanon (Storytelling) will be held in December at the University of the Philippines Visayas, Miag-ao campus, and U.P. Prof. Nick Deocampo, who headed the discussions in the UNESCO seminars, is invited as a Plenary Speaker;
- In Cebu, discussions are in progress between Dr. Paul Grant and Prof. Deocampo for the possible holding of an ASEAN-wide conference on documentary heritage at the University of San Carlos, where the UNESCO Documentary Heritage seminar was held. With his interest spurred by the said seminar, Dr Grant is now working on a proposal to host a similar event to bring regional consciousness to the significance of documents in preserving social memory.
- In Manila, the National Library will hold a First National Digital Heritage Conference participated in by distinguished personalities in Asia to talk about the state of digital preservation. Among those invited is, again, Prof. Nick Deocampo, whose talk on how documents provide historical memory (particularly in film) has found interest in the Conference that will be held in December. His topic is on: "Access to Philippine Documentary Heritage in the Digital Age".
- Having successfully organized the three seminars in three of the country's cities with rich cultural and documentary heritage, the UNESCO National Commission and the Center for New Cinema have broken new grounds in furthering the cause for the awareness and preservation of the country's documentary heritage.
Note: Nick Deocampo is a Filipino film producer, author and the director of the Center for New Cinema. Deocampo completed his basic education at West Visayas State University and finished salutatorian at Iloilo High School in 1976. Wikipedia