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Seized assets left to rot

To the older generations of Taclobanons, the People’s Center and Library is remembered with so much fondness.

Elmer Recuerdo

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TACLOBAN CITY — Along the city’s busiest thoroughfare, a two-story building stands out because of its being worn out, decrepit and having the indications of neglect.

Just outside the building is a huge signage, as if it claims ownership of the place, a bazaar for imported surplus products.

Beside it is another signage of the name of the building that is barely readable: “People’s Center and Library.”

To the older generations of Taclobanons, the People’s Center and Library (PCL) is remembered with so much fondness. It is the usual venue for the annual Search for Miss Tacloban, cultural activities, conventions, political rallies, graduations, balls and even weddings and debuts of the city’s influential people.

During weekends, premiere dance instructor Odon Sabarre would hold his ballet classes for students who came from prominent clans of the city. Outside, local boys would gather and gaze at the parade of beauties.

The second floor houses the public library with a vast collection of historical documents; a collection of dioramas of ethnic tribes in the country; a compilation of books on a vast variety of subject matter and antique tables and chairs along the hallway.

To the Taclobanons, it is an important legacy of the Marcos era.

But since the Marcos administration was removed from power through the EDSA Revolution in 1986, slowly the place lost its glitter. The administration of President Cory Aquino sequestered the building and put it under the care of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), which continues to manage it, along with the Sto. Niño Shrine, up to this day.

But since the PCGG took over the supervision of the building more than 30 years ago, it never tasted even a repaint.

The doors and shelves of the library have been eaten by termites along with many of the books. The result is a dilapidated building with moss growing on its walls, the ceilings long disappeared and never repaired.

What used to be a source of pride is now a source of shame that should be hidden from visitors.

Shameful state

Businessman Wilson Uy, former president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry Tacloban-Leyte chapter, lamented the sorry state of the building. He indicated that he cannot even bring his visitors to the library since the first thing they would see is a surplus bazaar.

Three years ago, Uy wrote the national office of the PCGG urging it to undertake repairs on the building. Apparently, nothing came out of it.

Retired school teacher Norma Escobal said at one time, she toured visiting teachers from other provinces to exhibit to them the huge library but found it to be in total disarray.

“I was so ashamed. The books were not in good order that you find in other libraries. The card catalogue of books was of no use because the books were jumbled up,” she said.

“Even the books themselves were dusty and many were heavily infested with termites that the pages would fall off when opened,” Escobal added.

Treasure trove

Despite its sorry condition, Escobal maintained that the library itself is still a treasure trove for researchers as well as book lovers. “You will find here so many books that you will not find in online stores, as well as in public and private libraries. But you have to exert so much effort to find what you need,” she said.

The books were treasures themselves as these came straight from the United States when former President Ferdinand Marcos bought the entire Library of Franconia University in New Hampshire, after it closed in 1978.

PCL has 14 big rooms filled with books on shelves 15 feet high. Large volumes of books by renowned authors, like Victor Hugo, Leo Tolstoy, Albert Camus, Franz Kafka and Anton Chekhov, are placed together in one room marked “Literature,” even as their other works are found in another room.

Literary gems

There is also a large collection of what could be the complete works of French novelist Honoré de Balzac, whose writings influenced the likes of Emile Zola, Charles Dickens and Henry James.

Also found in the library are copies of Harper’s Magazine that dates back to 1872 and American Homes and Gardens from July 1906 that are now bound in hard cover. Nature enthusiasts would be delighted to find copies of National Geographic that dates back to 1908.

There is a hardbound compilation of Munsey’s Magazine that dates back from late 1890s to early 1900s.

Researchers on the evolution of the anti-apartheid campaign in the US will be interested in the compilation of the Journal of Negro History published from 1925 to 1942.

PCGG’s indifference

The PCGG office occupies one room surrounded by books and manned by only one person, administrator Renor Dauag. He takes charge of both PCL and the Sto. Niño Shrine, acts as the librarian and takes charge of collecting the P30 library fee for a three-month access.

Dauag said whatever income PCL and Sto. Niño Shrine gets are sent to its head office in Manila on a daily basis, and the head office pays for the salary of the staff of 24 that maintains the two buildings, including one janitor that maintains the cleanliness of the library.

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