Of libraries and archives

While doing the research for my thesis at the Ateneo de Manila University School of Theology where housed the primary sources from Jesuit Missionary records, I can’t help but notice the well-preserved books and documents housed in air conditioned rooms. Charo Cabardo, a historian friend from Samar who also owns a library of her own, was right when she told me: “That library is my favorite.”

Another favorite is the Franciscan Archives in San Francisco del Monte, Quezon City where although the documents are yet to be sorted out,  Father Long, the priest in-charge of the library who has his hands full teaching, is very helpful to anyone who sets an appointment for research.

The National Library and the National Archives in Manila, sans some of its impolite technical staff, have also a wealth of primary materials from way back 16th century up to the 20th century. These are all housed in air conditioned rooms. I, an ignorant onlooker, just wonder why some documents gather dusts and have molds on them that bore holes and eat up part by part of the precious documents, the silent witnesses to history and old years gone by.

The University of the Philippines Main Library, of course, is also well-ventilated, despite its lack of books. The librarians, I surmise, have a keen eye on new plagiarized books, that they do not release them downstairs for general consumption.  Old books are recalled as each brittle page is pasted on sturdier paper, sewn or pasted back, and return to the shelves for public reading.

Archives and libraries are my favorite places on earth. Long before the movie “The Librarian” was shown, I have already seen Gregoria de Jesus, wife of Andres Bonifacio, lept alive and talked about how a certain Katipunero named Noriega of Cavite kept her alone (ala Aung San Su Kyii of Burma) in a bahay kubo while Andres was being plotted to be killed by their fellow Katipuneros. I have also cried silently – inside the library -while Procopio Bonifacio called “Kuyang! Kuyang!” for help to older brother Andres while he was being whisked away and eventually shot at a hearing distance.

I have seen on primary documents “Indio” boys and girls from as young as five up to 15 years old who were made “criados” or “criadas” (slaves) and did forced labor and household chores; the five year old girl acted as baby sitter or played with the son or daughter of a Spanish or mestizo family, earning uno to cinco centimos in a month or just food to eat (thus the Tagalog word aliping kanin) and a house to shelter her from the sun and rains.

At the Philippine Revolutionary Records section, I squirm and gasp for air as some Japanese soldiers threw Filipino babies on air and caught them with their sharp, pointed bayonetas up instantly killing them. I hold my neck out of fear and anger as Filipina teenagers were raped by sex starved Japanese soldiers anywhere during World War II. Details were horrible that I understood why my lady History teacher hated the Japanese soldiers then.

(A soft-spoken Japanese girl classmate seated beside me during an undergraduate class many years ago cried uncontrollably while we were discussing World War II atrocities saying the Japanese did not rape and kill Filipinos. It was apparent that this tragic episode was not written in Japanese history books. My male professor clarified he was condemning the war, not the Japanese people. She finished the course just the same.)

It is also in libraries and archives that I discovered the Filipino ingenuity, resourcefulness and bravado that made our culture resilient and the Filipino spirit continuously surviving amid onslaught of wars, poverty and disasters.

I love the muted silence-but not quite- in these places waiting to spring up life in the form of words that tell the stories of men and women in our past.

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