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Monday, May 25, 2009

Books for every Filipino

Our President has finally acted on the controversial import duty imposed on books by the Department of Finance and the Bureau of Customs. Yesterday, she ordered the department to to scrap the taxes imposed on imported books and reading materials. (I have a post on this here)

According to her spokesperson, "The President wants books to be within reach of the common man. She believes reading as an important value for intellectual formation, which is the foundation of a healthy public opinion necessary for a vibrant democracy.” (The Philippine Star)

Thank you Mrs. President for your concern for the Filipino people. Unlike your subordinates in the finance department who have limited or narrow appreciation of the importance of books in learning, you have shown your desire to make books within our reach. Still, many of us think twice before even buying a copy of a book we desire.

Even without the added tax the DOF wanted to impose, books are presently beyond reach of the common man. Most paperback books cost more than 300 pesos, hardbounds cost more. Even local publications are priced not lower than 200 pesos, a princely sum for many Filipinos who earn just 275 pesos a day. That is why in many cases, books are not even in the list of essential things to buy for many Filipinos. I for one has to save just to buy a book and pray that when I have enough money to get it, the book will still be there. Indeed, there is still a lot to do if you really want books to be "within reach of the common man."

One of the things you could do is to provide for public libraries. Local governments may set up libraries in their areas that could provide reading materials for their constituents. They do not necessarily need to buy new books since there are hundreds of ways to get stocks for their libraries.

I remember when I was small, this was at the height of the Martial Law years, our community has a small public library where one can come and freely read books. I don't know when this library was erected but before I got to college, it was gone. The old structure was torn down and in its place now stand a carwash,

While some communities continue to have public libraries, these are through efforts of private citizens who probably share the President's belief in the importance of reading in intellectual formation. These libraries receive little, if any at all, support from local governments.

Many of my fellow book lovers have come up of ingenious ways to spread the joy of reading, There's bookmooching where one gets credit for giving someone else his book. He could use this credit to ask for a book from other people who will in turn get credit for giving him the book.

Why can't government apply something like this and give individual book donors credit that they could use to buy new books for themselves? This will encourage many people to give away books they have read to those who cannot afford them and they could buy new books which they could donate again in the future.

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