Going back to the topic of Filipino books, part of the problem isn't necessarily in the available literature our nation has but in choosing which is literature and which isn't.
This sentiment has been echoed before and not just by me: the trend in what constitutes as "literary" is that the body of work has to be socially relevant, as if by writing we're solving the country's poverty problem. Which is a lofty goal I think but honestly, when I pick up a book, I want to enjoy the story, not because it'll cause social change.
Thankfully, in my experience, there's more diversity in books written by Filipino authors but are written in English. When it comes to works written in Filipino, we could really use a poster boy, the equivalent of Harry Potter that will sweep the masses off their feet and yet be similarly embraced by the literati. I mean Filipinos do read, they just don't read books. Or rather books approved by the literati. I'm tired of mentioning the Tagalog romance novels but hey, they're here and they've lasted longer than komiks. Of course my problem with Tagalog romance novels isn't in their popularity but in the fact that there's no one specific novel that stands out like a banned book the masses can call their own. Filipinos have a love affair with a genre but not with a specific novel.
Strangely enough, if there's an icon that Filipinos can cling to, it's probably in komiks. We have the likes of Panday, Captain Barbel, Darna, and Zuma. These are probably the closest things we have to literary characters yet there's a resistance to accept them by the literati simply because they're not the product of books but that of komiks. Or worse, their movie counterparts which is what the current generation is more familiar with (in contrast to the generation that were reading about them from komiks).
Of course I'd like to point out that Pilipino is still a young language, barely more than a century old. Tagalog has lasted longer than that but while Pilipino draws upon a good portion of the language from Tagalog, for me Pilipino and Tagalog aren't the same in the way that there's a distinct different between American English and European English. And perhaps the more significant difference is that Tagalog is attached to a region, while Pilipino is not only associated with just a region but a nation.
I've seen (and thankfully read) some good Filipino-written (in the sense that it's in Pilipino) novels. Of course the reason I read them in the first place is because they were required reading for class. Luwalhati Bautista's Dekada 70 or Bata, Bata, Paano Ka Ginawa are examples. I mean I've read the latter and I love it, but honestly, I wouldn't have picked it up if there wasn't a movie based around it or more importantly, if I didn't need to pass Filipino class. And unfortunately, that's how some of us get acquainted with books in general. Perhaps what me a bookworm isn't that I read a lot, but I read when not being coerced by some outside force (whether it's school or the latest fad).
The other book I read in Pilipino was Jose Rizal's Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. Of course you have to bear in mind that these are Pilipino translations as the originals were written in Spanish. My main qualm about reading these books is the question of whether we're reading them because they're actually of good quality in terms of writing, or because they're simply the novels written by our national hero. I could live with the fact that we're reading them because they're historical footnotes but not because they're tagged as literary and they're actually not (not that I'm saying they aren't, just a point to mull upon). I think this is where our agenda of being nationalistic and socially relevant comes into play, and perhaps (sadly) the expectation that all future Filipino novels should be the equivalent.
Perhaps I was too hasty in my conclusion that komik characters were the only iconic characters in Filipino literature. Another that comes to mind--and I enjoyed reading--were the works of Balagtas and his verse Florante at Laura. Same goes for Ibong Adarna. Of course the problem with the two is that they aren't necessarily novels in the strictest sense but rather they're verse. And perhaps the tragedy is that we're not seeing them performed enough. And when I say perform, I really mean perform. I mean sure, we might read Shakespeare, but Shakespeare's plays were meant to be plays. While simply reading them is enjoyable, watching it being performed on stage is probably more entertaining. Unfortunately in the case of Florante at Laura, no one's singing it. It's reduced to a textbook story that's simply being read.
The biggest problem I think is that with the exception of komiks, all that I've mentioned are the products of schooling. Where's that entertaining Filipino novel that wasn't required reading for class? Sadly, aside from what I mentioned above, most likely people's favorite novel written by a Filipino author will probably be one written in English (and I'm not sad about the fact that it's in English, but the fact that we're not exploring the potentials of Pilipino, or how there aren't enough good writers that are getting published). So far, the good Filipino writers writing in Pilipino can be found in other mediums such as in radio, in TV, and in film.