What can I use to protect the top of an oak file cabinwt?

I have an oak file cabinet that is by my hubby's desk and he likes to set things on it, namely his drink. Right now I have a towel on it then a mat ( think kitchen floor mat ) because I thought the mat would stick to the wood. Well the other day I noticed that the top is very dried out and assume the towel is not helping anything.
We can't afford glass or a piece of plexi-glass right now so I am wondering what I can use to protect it? Would laminate on the back of a placemat work? Or could I put laminate on the back of the foam mat? A any help would appreciated as the cabinet belonged to my mother and I don't want it to get ruined.

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