IN TIMES of natural calamities, the amount of property lost will always be unexpected and unimaginable. It is unavoidable that important records will be buried beneath the rubble and historical documents may be damaged beyond recovery.
So from an archivist’s perspective, how does one go about doing their work when the protection and preservation of life takes precedence over any material object?
“When is the right time?” is one question posed by participants of the 4th National Archives Congress in Vigan that proved difficult to answer.
“The very basic truth is that it is very hard to intervene when people are in shock,” said Director Victorino Manalo of the National Archives of the Philippines, whose functions include among others the identification, conservation and promotion of Filipino documents heritage.
Without a program in place, a city risks losing its entire archive for each day that passes after a disaster hits.
With the theme “Archives @ Risk: Mitigation and Empowerment,” the congress served as a platform for valuable exchange of information and expertise in records management and archives administration, and was attended by archivists, record officers, local government unit secretaries and general service officers from all over the Philippines.
Manalo, speaking on the topic “Empowering Archivists,” encouraged the management of archives the moment they would be created. This would include duplication of important documents and placing them in an off-site location for easy retrieval later on.
He pointed out the Philippines’ advantage as being one of the few countries that has an archive law.
Arising from the presentations, workshops and plenary presentations of outputs from workshop groups, resolutions were adopted. These resolutions are in accordance with the objectives of the congress: to formulate guidelines to mitigate the impacts of natural disasters in archives and to develop a module to professionalize archival education in the Philippines, which will be undertaken by the University of the Philippines School of Library and Information Studies.
Some of the resolutions the conference passed include having a disaster management plan that would train staff on rescue, recovery and rehabilitation of records, and having the basic emergency supplies to accomplish these; strict enforcement of and compliance with the National Archives Act of 2007; development of a counterpart “natural risk reduction and disaster management plan for cultural assets” program; establishment of a national volunteers program; public education on disaster management and preventive conservation; more trainings, workshops and short certificate courses made available to people who want to do archival work.
“I am happy that the awareness on the importance of archives in the country has increased,” said Fr. Harold Rentoria, OSA, head of the Subcommission on Cultural Heritage of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. “Many institutions have established archives to preserve and protect our nation’s history and cultural heritage, and made the archival documents accessible for public use.”
The Augustinian friar added that while archiving is not yet seen as a profession in the country, and with colleges and universities not yet offering archiving as a program in higher education, there is a need to update the skills of Filipino archivists to make them dovetail with the trends in archival management through conferences and workshops offered by international professional organizations.
“The technology that we learned from these international conferences were also shared with our local counterparts through seminar-workshops,” Father Rentoria said. “The congress is very important to those in the field of archiving because it serves as a venue to learn from each other the best practices in archival management in the country, and it strengthens networks with fellow archivists for support. It is also the time to share the joys and difficulties experienced in the workplace.”
In 2016, an international archives congress will be held in the Philippines that will feature archivists from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) who will talk about the best practices on archiving in the region.
Father Rentoria said he hopes that the congress would help establish networks and linkages among counterparts in the Asean region.