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New Cultural Resource for Ortigas Center

Library reading room.

A year ago the Ortigas Foundation opened its new Library and Philippine Study Center on a handsomely renovated floor of the old Ortigas Building in Pasig. 2006 marked the seventy-fifth anniversary of the founding of Ortigas and Company and the Ortigas family members and their corporate partners felt it was important to give back something substantial to the community. For several generations the Ortigases have been the leading real-estate developers of the Mandaluyong-Pasig area. Their holdings once included a large part of what is now Mandaluyong, Pasig, San Juan, Camp Crame and even Marikina.

The new library, with over sixteen thousand books and periodicals about Philippine history and culture, is designed to be both a valuable information center for researchers and a lively community center for everyone interested in Philippine culture. It has display cases for rare books, maps and photographs and comfortable conference rooms for lectures, seminars and other cultural events such as book launches, video and film presentations and small exhibitions. The library is now open to the public from Tuesday through Saturday free of charge.

Display cases for rare books.

Five years ago the Ortigas Foundation purchased two important private libraries relating to Philippine history. One from the estate of the late historian, Professor Gregorio Zaide, and the other from the estate of Morton Netzorg, a Philippine book collector and bibliographer from the United States. These collections have been cataloged and combined, in some cases rebound, and are available for use by researchers. The library also has a good collection of maps, historical photographs and postcards many of which have been reproduced and enlarged. The best of these have been framed and are used as part of a mobile exhibit which visits local schools and other public exhibition sites.

Although there has been an understandable rush by students to use the Internet as a research tool in the last few years, there is still no substitute for printed books. The Internet can provide quick answers, facts and figures, but to gain deep knowledge of a subject one must spend hours and hours reading and exploring through old books, photographs and original documents. Many of the books in the Ortigas collection are beautifully bound and illustrated with engravings and photographs. They are unique reflections of the period they were designed and printed in and impart quantities of valuable information about their era. This type of hands-on library experience cannot be transmitted over the Internet to a computer monitor as yet.

Beautifully bound rare books in the Ortigas Library.

The highlights of the Ortigas Library’s collection are its early books on travel, works by and about Jose Rizal, accounts of the Philippine Revolution and Philippine American War, and a comprehensive collection of books and newspapers on World War ll in the Philippines. A very early, 1666, illustrated edition of Hakluyt’s Voyages is on display along with a copy of George Anson’s account of capturing the Manila Galleon in 1743, with beautiful maps and copper plate engravings. The rarest books in the Ortigas Library are the 1906 galley proofs of John R. M. Taylor’s “Insurgent Records”, compiled from thousands of Filipino documents captured in the Philippines and transported to Washington at the end of the Filipino American War in 1901. These contain a wealth of detailed information about the Katipunan and first Filipino Republic. Publication was halted in Washington and these were not officially published until 1971 by Lopez Museum here in Manila.

Complimenting these books and other texts, the library has an important collection of handsomely framed late nineteenth century photographs on permanent display. These include famous events and picturesque views of Manila, portraits of revolutionary leaders, Rizal’s execution, views of Spanish churches, opulent houses and beautiful women of the era in indigenous costumes. Skillfully reprinted and mounted for a centennial exhibit ten years ago these photographs were generously donated to the library by Fundacion Santiago.

Illustration of Kalinga girl by Fernando Amorsolo.

Reversing the trend of Philippine antiques leaving the country, in the case of the Morton Netzorg collection, the Foundation has brought back thousands of books and documents from the United States. This material includes Netzorg’s voluminous research notes and correspondence with Philippine scholars over many decades. Professor Zaide’s library; thousands of historical periodicals, books, personal papers and scrap books are still being cleaned, cataloged and conscientiously repaired. This has been a daunting assignment for the head librarian who has been given the job of turning a chaotic collection of thousands of books and papers into a working public library.

The library continues to purchase many new books on Philippine history and culture and receives donations of old and rare books from time to time. In the near future the Ortigas Library hopes to expand the collection considerably with access to the extensive private collections of members of the Ortigas family. The most fragile material in the library, such as century old newspapers and magazines, is too delicate for public use but some day this will be copied and digitalized so it can also be widely used.

The mission of the Ortigas Library like most other libraries is to gather together quantities of information, both general and highly specialized and make it available, impartially, to historians and the general public. There are several other excellent Filipiniana collections open to the public in greater Manila at privately owned libraries such as the Lopez Museum Library and the Ayala’s Philippine Heritage Library, Ateneo University, Santo Tomas University, and the University of the Philippines. The National Library on T.M. Kalaw in Rizal Park has many treasures but has been neglected, pilfered from and under funded for years.

Cartouche from antique map, 1700s.

Considering that greater Manila now has a population of over ten million and is still growing rapidly these institutions are all relatively small. The amount of primary source Filipiniana material is actually quite limited. In the future, when the Philippines finally acquires an affluent middle class similar to other developed countries in Asia and the West, these libraries will be completely overrun. Adding to the demand for Philippine material, Filipino Americans and large, well endowed American institutions have started to collect Filipiniana aggressively.

These are only a few of the reasons why the Ortigas Foundation Library is a welcome addition. Forty years ago most of the Mandaluyong – Pasig City area was grassland. Today it is a forest of commercial and residential high-rises bordered by EDSA and the MRT light-rail on the west and Meralco Avenue on the east. Ortigas Center is known for its wide avenues, shopping malls, and innovative urban architecture such as the EDSA Shangri-La Hotel, San Miguel Headquarters and Asian Development Bank, Mega-Mall and Robinson’s Galleria and the landmark EDSA Shrine. The Meralco Theater and the venerable Lopez Museum and Library, hidden away in the Benpres Building on the south side of Ortigas Center, have been the major cultural centers.

With a new building cycle well under way in Ortigas Center the Foundation hopes to be a catalyst for thoughtful and intelligent development of the cultural resources. As more residential and mixed-use buildings go up, the Foundation plans to support a wide range of cultural programs that will breath life and humanity into the somewhat austere, corporate landscape. The Library with its Philippine Study Center and planned schedule of events is a good first step. Hopefully, in years to come, both residents and workers in the area can look forward to a great many more cultural resources and amenities such as new museums, a larger library, theaters, and art galleries. These will be the building blocks of a well-informed, rich and productive Filipino community.

PUBLISHED. Starweek Magazine; March 4, 2007

Jonathan Best works as a museum and library consultant for the Ortigas Foundation.