To our distinguished judges, authors, creatives, publishers, and the Manila Critics Circle, on behalf of the National Book Development Board, I welcome everyone to the 39th National Book Awards. Good evening, everyone!

It has been more than two years since we last held the National Book Awards with the Manila Critics Circle. Besides the fact that this is a much awaited comeback from such a lengthy absence, I can speak to all of you tonight with great pride and excitement mostly because of what the book world has become despite and because of what the last two years have thrown at us. 

You all know how the industry struggled at the onset of the pandemic. But the narrative that I feel like more people should hear, the story our writers and artists should be able to tell everyone, is how our very own book publishing scene has reached heights in the last two years. An unprecedented increase in ISBN applications, over P30 million grants and domestic incentives received by creators, the setup of book nook sites (which are safe and inclusive reading spaces all over the country), numbering 52 in 2021 and 40 more this year, dozens of Filipino titles brought to the global stage via international book fairs, and the continuous literary production of independent publishers and creators. 

I imagine all this will not only be a reassurance for everyone who cares about books, it is also, more importantly, a reason to keep going—to keep telling the story of the Filipino.

This year, my colleagues and I had the fortune of representing the Philippines in several international book fairs. Amid all the business talks and negotiations, I am happy to share with all of you the good news: Our stories are in fact worth telling. Our use of color, the richness of our folklore and mythology, the depth and inventiveness of our contemporary novels, the unique wisdom and charm of our children’s books—the whole world has been waiting for all of this.

And, in case I forget to mention, this is what we have to work on next: we need to reach our diasporic populations through our books—because yes, we are everywhere—and to keep producing more books. 

Now, what do literary awards mean amid all of this promise and clamor for our stories? A few things, perhaps most important of which is that it’s an overdue celebration of Filipino literary talent and of the book as an art form. It’s a reminder, too, that we need to read more Filipino books and for us to stop othering our own work by relegating them to these small, sad Filipiniana sections in our own bookstores. 

While some people might say that awards are really just secondary to what is truly important—which is the book—I believe, like many of you, that the prestige and attention that they bring to creative work amounts to something greater. They encourage wider readership and spotlights what are otherwise overlooked voices, which then encourages sales and helps our booksellers and publishers, which in turn encourages wider authorship. 

It fuels this whole cycle that makes possible the very human and necessary act of storytelling. I know that we all would have loved for this NBA comeback to be held in person, but to everyone joining us now, let’s not forget that this event still provides us an occasion to take time off of our busy schedules so we can turn to what our artists have made, and to be delighted, once again, by the Filipino book. 

I would like to congratulate the Manila Critics Circle and of course my team at NBDB for making this event possible. Finally, congratulations to our inimitable authors, publishers, artists, readers, and translators—the world is a better place because of what you do.

Thank you and have a good evening, everyone!