[OPINION] On the Frankfurt Book Fair, Bagong Pilipinas, and Palestine

Faye Cura

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[OPINION] On the Frankfurt Book Fair, Bagong Pilipinas, and Palestine

Guia Abogado/Rappler

'Could the Philippine Pavilion at the 2025 Frankfurt Book Fair end up being just one big advertising gimmick for the Philippines?'

After years of lobbying by the National Book Development Board, the Philippines was finally named Guest of Honor in the 2025 Frankfurt Book Fair (FBF). The Guest of Honor has the important task of increasing attendance to the fair. A Guest of Honor country’s publishing industry and culture “are given a special place at the fair” which entails “a comprehensive cultural program of readings, awards ceremonies, tastings of typical specialities, exhibitions, and performances.”

Preparations for the 2025 FBF are underway. Local publishers scramble to put together their catalogs, organize their stocks, and equip themselves with knowledge on translation rights, contracts negotiation, and so forth.

As a Filipino small press publisher who also had the privilege to attend the FBF years ago, I find the timing of the country’s “prestigious position as Guest of Honor” disturbing at the least.

Disclaimer: In 2019, I was a fellow in FBF’s “Invitation Program for small publishers from countries with a developing book industry.” We attended seminars on contract writing and book design, and were allocated a booth in the International Pavilion. Prior to traveling to Germany, I had thought that the FBF was a simple bookselling fair and, given the prohibitive cost of shipping, a great opportunity to bring our books to Filipinos in Europe. As I later learned, the FBF and, I suppose, all the other international book fairs are spaces established primarily for doing business: to meet authors, publishers, distributors, and suppliers, or to acquire and sell publishing or translation rights to the works of foreign authors.

Reflecting on the experience immediately after, I wrote that the FBF showed how mainstream publishing operated. One, it celebrated individual authors, especially bestsellers and prize winners. Two, it was motivated by profit. Among the books I brought to the FBF were cookbooks to support campaigns on the Marawi Siege and the NutriAsia Strike; a poetry zine written by peasant women; and life narratives of nurses, farmers, and migrant workers. I did not really set out to offer the books for anything other than a few euros, but needless to say, not one title was picked up for translation. Anyway, our booth was visited by ordinary fairgoers, not agents or business people.

Small press publisher friends observe that the NBDB’s main interest seems to be “to absorb small presses into their agendas instead of supporting them in endeavors that may be outside the entrepreneurial.” In hindsight, this just looks like a localized version of what the FBF has been doing, with its “Invitation Program for small publishers from countries with a developing book industry!” Said countries are located in Africa, Latin America, the “Arabic World,” and Asia.

The same friends recall the Creative Industries Law in which the government pledges to support the various creative industries for “economic growth and nation-building.” One product of this law is the Young Creatives Challenge through which, said DTI Secretary Alfredo Pascual, “we are promoting our own culture and bringing it to a stage where it can be commercialized.” Pascual said that commercialization of “competitive” artworks will contribute to the country’s GDP. “Mas maganda kung exported,” he added.

(Incidentally, Philippine Creative Industries Month is September, the month in 1972 when Martial Law was declared, during which a “Bagong Lipunan” was envisioned by the president’s dictator father.)

On January 28, Marcos Jr. launched his “Bagong Pilipinas” campaign with an ostentatious rally at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila. According to the presidential memo, all government agencies “shall be guided by the principles, strategies, and objectives of the ‘Bagong Pilipinas’ brand of governance and leadership in planning their programs, activities, and projects.” The NBDB released a social media post expressing its support for the campaign.

I wonder how the “Bagong Pilipinas” brand will translate to the mini-Philippines that the NBDB and its curators are bringing to Frankfurt.

[OPINION] On the Frankfurt Book Fair, Bagong Pilipinas, and Palestine

The campaign “calls for deep and fundamental transformations in all sectors of society and government, and fosters the state’s commitment towards the attainment of comprehensive policy reforms and full economic recovery.” Could the “fundamental transformations” have something to do with the Charter Change proposal that some politicians are again vigorously pushing for? Proposed amendments to the Constitution would give way to 100% foreign ownership of educational institutions, advertising companies, and public utilities.

Seeing that the Marcos government has done nothing but open our country’s resources to foreign investments, could the Philippine Pavilion at the 2025 Frankfurt Book Fair end up being just one big advertising gimmick for the Philippines? Reports say that the president’s frequent trips abroad raked in P4-trillion worth of investments. Meanwhile, more Filipinos are hungry, more agricultural lands are converted into businesses, and the country’s reliance on importation has worsened the problems of farmers working in backward conditions.

The Philippines’ position as Guest of Honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair at this time fits well with the government’s image as an imperialist lackey. Last October, the Philippines was among the 46 countries that abstained from voting on the UN resolution for a humanitarian truce in Gaza. Instead, it acknowledged Israel’s “right to self-defense” and stayed silent on Israel’s atrocities in Palestine.

This follows a long history of the Philippines blindly supporting Israel and its occupation of Palestine. Aljazeera reports that the Philippines is among top buyers of arms from Israel, spending $275 million as of 2022 on weapons used in the decades-long counterinsurgency campaign which has only intensified in recent years.

Germany itself has increased the amount of military equipment it exported to Israel and is likely to deliver 10,000 tank shells more. Like the Philippines, the German government has been nothing but supportive of the US-backed Zionist genocide of the Palestinians.

Early in January, cultural workers launched the Strike Germany campaign in response to Germany’s silencing of pro-Palestine voices. The Strike Germany website exposes: “Palestine solidarity protests are mislabeled as anti-Semitic and banned, activist spaces are raided by police, and violent arrests are frequent…. The countless, invisible instances of repression have been punctuated by high-profile scandals [such as] the Palestinian novelist Adania Shibli [being] disinvited from receiving the LiBeraturpreis at the Frankfurt Book Fair…. [The] German cultural and academic sectors’ complete reliance on public funds has increasingly transformed cultural production into an extension of state policy.”

Isn’t this brand of cultural production similar to what is happening with the “Bagong Pilipinas” charade and other state-sponsored cultural initiatives? Rappler reports that the government spent at least P16.4 million for the “Bagong Pilipinas” kick-off rally alone. I wonder how much of the people’s money will be spent for the Guest of Honor stint.

Meanwhile, the Philippines is at the bottom of the latest math, reading, and science literacy survey conducted by the Program for International Student Assessment. One kilo of rice could cost P70. The death toll in Gaza has just crossed the 26,000 mark.

We call on Filipino authors, publishers, and cultural workers to remain vigilant on how the deceptions of imperialists and their servants manifest in our sector. Only with the continued struggle for national sovereignty and genuine solidarity with other oppressed peoples can a new Philippines truly emerge. –

Faye Cura is a writer, editor, and an advocate of peasant women’s rights and welfare. She is the publisher of Gantala Press, a feminist small press founded in 2015.

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