Time, tide, and the written word

Published October 5, 2020, 5:35 AM

by Jaime Laya

Wala Lang

TIME TESTED Arellano High School in Manila, photo by David Montasco

The library of my school, Arellano High in Santa Cruz near C.M. Recto, survived World War II and till I left for U.P. in 1953, I browsed its stacks and book cases of pre-war books. Our librarian was the super strict Doña Josefa Marcos, mother of President Marcos. We got to be friends and she and 13-year-old me used to play sungkâ every afternoon at her desk deep within the stacks.  

The National Library had been bombed out from the present National Art Gallery Building and was then in a corner of Bilibid Prison, entrance on Oroquieta Street.  On the way home, I would often search its miscellanea, mostly donations from abroad. All in all, the best place for the written word was the USIS (U.S. Information Service) Library on Escolta and David Streets. It was always crowded but had current titles.  

I didn’t know it then but U.S. Ambassador Myron M. Cowen was concerned that anyone interested in history had nowhere to go—that was years before the Lopezes, Zobels, and Ortigases entered the picture.

On Oct. 5, 1949 therefore the Ambassador convened a meeting of like-minded people to explore possibilities.  Present were U.P. anthropology professor H. Otley Beyer, journalist A.V.H. Hartendorp, educator and numismatist Gilbert Perez, and others from the business and military sectors. The meeting led to the formation of an informal group, the American Historical Collection (AHC) Committee, that started soliciting donations in cash and in kind. They succeeded and books, photographs, documents, magazines, and other stuff started arriving.  

The American Association of the Philippines, Inc. (AAP) had meanwhile been formed, mainly to help Americans in need. It was encouraged by the ambassador to help administer the collection and the AHC Committee was attached to AAP. It was to consist of persons appointed 50-50 by the American ambassador and the AAP.  The committee shifted to high gear and in addition to building up the collection, sponsored public lectures and student history writing competitions, and began publication of the AHC Bulletin.  

Originally housed at the U.S. Embassy on Roxas Boulevard, the AHC moved to Makati, on Buendia Street near EDSA together with the Thomas Jefferson Cultural Center that contained what remained of the USIS Library. A shift in US diplomatic policy led to the facility’s closure and the collection had to relocate.  

That must have caused consternation within the ranks. In the first place, AAP membership was not that interested in a library-museum and in publishing a Bulletin. And then there was the problem and expense of transferring to a new location. The confluence of reluctance and problem led to the move to Ateneo and the incorporation of the American Historical Collection Foundation, Inc. (AHCF) by Frank L. Jenista, Stephen James Banta, James Marsh Thomson, Florence S. Hackett, Carlyn Manning Drumm, and Lewis E. Gleek, Jr. This all happened in 1995.  

Gleek BTW was a former US Consul and historian who wrote some two dozen important books and reports using AHC resources.  

The AHC is an irreplaceable treasure held in trust by the American Association of the Philippines, Inc. It is an important and heavy responsibility deserving of continued care and protection.

AHCF was given the task of managing AHC and under the 50-year agreement with Ateneo separate space was assigned at the Rizal Library for the AHC reading room, stacks and storage, exhibition space, and librarian’s office. The collection has since been in the custody and care of Ateneo under the watchful eye of AHCF.

PHILIPPINE MAP COLLECTORS SOCIETY Members of PHIMCOS viewing rare maps at the Américan Historical Collection: Emmanuel Ticzon, Albert Montilla, Connie González, Jonathan Best, Jaime González, Jaime Laya, Mrs Peter Geldart, Christian Pérez, Marga Binamira, and Peter Geldart

The collection has grown greatly and has been cited by the US Library of Congress as “priceless and unique.” Focus is on the American Period (1898-1946), with books, government reports, manuscripts, photographs, paintings, maps, movies including World War II documentaries, memorabilia, coins, seals, medals, flags, and weapons from the Spanish-American, Filipino-American Wars and the Mindanao Campaign. 

Its extensive photograph collection dates from the 1800s, with scenes of the Spanish-American and Filipino-American Wars; photographs of native peoples; shots of important events; portraits of Rizal and the Rizal family and of prominent Americans and Filipinos including governors-general, government officials, and business leaders.

One of the most significant early gifts was made by Governor-General W. Cameron Forbes. He had donated the master set of his Philippine collection to Harvard University but gave a second set to the collection. All the while, the committee was also spending cash donations on 19th century and earlier works from dealers abroad.

In 1961, the heirs of renowned lawyer Eugene Arthur Perkins transferred the E.A. Perkins Memorial Library consisting of some 4,000 titles in over 5,000 volumes. The Perkins Memorial Library has some Spanish Regime titles but its strength lies in the American period. Official documents, periodicals, pamphlets, US Congressional hearings on political and economic affairs, Commonwealth period periodicals, Santo Tomas Internment Camp material, and Japanese propaganda posters and material in English, are well represented in the collection. Post-1946 items cover political and trade relations and military bases negotiations. It also has Rizaliana and Quezoniana items.

The library was probably also Perkins’ law office library and has an exceptional collection of Spanish and American laws in force in the Philippines; Acts of the Philippine Commission, Philippine Assembly, Philippine Legislature, National Assembly, and the Philippine Congress up to 1950; all Philippine Codes; Supreme Court decisions; and records of the 1935 Constitutional Convention. 

Time has passed and over the past 25 years, AHCF has seen to it that the collection was secure and properly cared for by Ateneo. As a research—not a lending—library, AHCF adopted a policy against anything in the rare and fragile collection from leaving library premises. 

The foundation maintained an active publication program, continuing the AHC Bulletin and producing a digital edition and an index of decades of the Bulletin’s past issues. It also published an introduction to the extensive photograph collection and has been in discussion for the publication of two more works. To encourage greater use of the collection while protecting the fragile originals, AHCF digitized much of the collection using Ateneo’s own facilities for minimum risk.

AHCF solicited and received donations, enriching the collection with manuscripts, photographs, and memorabilia, most recently the memoirs of Thomasites, young American teachers who established the modern Philippine educational system.  

The tide has turned and now interested in the library, AAP has taken over AHC management. Its board consists of Ricardo “Rick” Sobreviñas (chairman), Jose Maristela III (president), Grace Nicolas (vice president), Hilarion Dimagiba (secretary), and trustees Angelo Lorenzana, John Cutter, Michael Haskell, Rose Nobbley, Brian Skinner, Eric Thompson, Toni Urrutia, Kaydee Velasco, and Francisco Dennis Manzano.

The AHC is an irreplaceable treasure held in trust by the American Association of the Philippines, Inc. It is an important and heavy responsibility deserving of continued care and protection.

Notes: (a) This article is based on a 1962 pamphlet, American Historical Collection including the EA. Perkins Memorial Library and notes of AHCF trustees Leslie Murray and Stephen Banta (an original AHC Committee member and AHCF incorporator); (b) W. Cameron Forbes was Philippine governor-general from 1909 to 1913; (c) E.A. Perkins headed DeWitt Perkins Ponce Enrile Law Office, the Ponce Enrile being Senator Juan Ponce Enrile’s father; and (d) Your columnist is a trustee of AHCF, nominated by J. Marsh Thomson in place of Dr. Benito J. Legarda, Jr. who left the board when he was appointed to the National Historical Institute.

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