The President “ain’t” deaf. Press Secretary Cerge Remonde gave that spin to Ms Arroyo’s sensible order to Finance Secretary Margarito Teves: scrap taxes, clamped by Bureau of Customs, on imported books and reading material.
“Books give light to my eyes,” the Ibanag proverb says. Thus, “President Arroyo wants books to be within reach of the common man,” spinmeister Remonde explained. “She believes reading as an important value for intellectual formation, which is the foundation of a healthy public opinion necessary for a vibrant democracy.”
Manuel Quezon III opened protest sluicegates by showing, in Inquirer columns, that Finance Department Order 17-09 fractured the Florence Agreement. The Philippines is party to this 1950 treaty. It would spur “free exchange of ideas and knowledge”, Quezon wrote. Tax collectors instead clamped on a premium for ignorance.
Customs claimed that the word –“only”– in Republic Act 8047 authorized taxes by way of exception. Nonsense. “The word seems to be a Customs intercalation,” constitutional scholar Joaquin Bernas, SJ noted.
” I don’t believe Congress would attempt to repeal a treaty commitment by the mere insertion of one word,” he added. “Neither may Customs attempt to insert for whatever purpose what Congress did not insert”.
This book levy uproar resembles the firestorm that earlier engulfed Cebu City officials. Vice-mayor Michael Rama and Councilor Joy August Young tried to padlock the 69-year old Rizal Memorial Library.
Like our taxmen, they cited “reasons of economy”.
But citizens, who built the library in 1939, beat them back. Today, the library is undergoing a million-peso renovation. That’s a significant victory too. This is, after all, a country where half of those between 7 and 21 don’t read anything – not even comics. And by grade four, many students still can’t read.
Illegal book taxes interlock with flawed textbooks. Antonio Calipjo Go, for example, documented, for over a decade, errors that studded science and English textbooks Some columnists pounced on Go They didn’t question his findings or concern over mis-educating students. Rather, they fretted over publishing moguls’ balance sheets. A Senate probe fizzled.
Twelve years after the Lower House documented textbook errors, German national Helmut Haas — who lodged the complaint — found flaws yet again. His Grade 5 son’s copy of “The Wonderful World of Science” textbook claims “algae as a fish,” and “dust as a minute organism”.
“The Department of Education’s committee on instructional material has not done a single thing since the 1997 inquiry,” Haas told Sun Star. “How will the Philippines come out of this economic situation when they teach this in schools?”
Led by Rep. Raul del Mar, the inquiry found error-filled textbooks proliferate nationwide.. The problem stems from negligence and apparent graft. Then Education secretary Ricardo Gloria promised reforms.
Nothing came of that too. So, is it any surprise why our kids landed in the cellar of the last three International Mathematics and Science tests?
“The best way of gauging enlightenment of a nation is to examine the attitude of its officials towards books,” Manila Chronicle’s I.P. Soliongco wrote in 1957. “If this test were applied to the Philippines, it would be found we’re one of the most backwards in the world,” the late “Yeyeng” wrote.
Quezon provided this overdue test. Amor propio, however, prodded customs bureaucrats to stonewall, noted Rep. Teodoro Locsin, Jr. That underscored the bureaucratic mindset.
We have no monopoly on narrow-minds. The paranoid Burmese junta bans even travel books like “Lonely Planet”. Malaysia’s Internal Security Ministry uses the draconian Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 to ban over 45 books lest they “disrupt peace and harmony.”
Expect Beijing to explicitly ban the Chinese version of the hottest item on the book circuit today: “Prisoner of State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang..”
The Politiburo thrust their former secretary general into house arrest for protesting brutal suppression of Tiananmen Square protestors 20 years ago, come June 4. Jose Maria Sison and other Filipino communists cheered that massacre.
Zhao died in 2005. But he smuggled out 30 hours of secret tapes. Zhao’s daughter, Wang Yannan, told BBC that she knew nothing of the book until the English version appeared this month.. In it, Zhao denounced the killing of protesters on 3-4 June 1989 as a “tragedy”.
“On the night of 3 June, while sitting in the courtyard with my family, I heard intense gunfire,” he writes. “A tragedy to shock the world had not been averted,… “If we don’t move toward this goal ( of democracy) , it will be impossible to resolve the abnormal conditions in China’s market economy.’
“One day, China will have to change its view of Tiananmen Square”, says Bao Tong, Zhao’s secretary. Jailed for seven years, he admits to smuggling the tapes.. But he can no longer accept interviews “starting right now”, he told a CBS team.. Websites which carried Zhao’s memoirs are now blocked.
Such developments impact the Philippines. If Customs had its way, we would know of them only if we paid taxes for books. Within a library, books form “a republic of letters,” philanthropist Andrew Carnegie wrote.” That’s the real matatag na republika. Ask Cerge Remonde.