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We might as well die  

Posted by Laya in ,

"The day after the first shipment of books was released, an internal memo circulated in customs congratulating themselves for finally levying a duty on books, though no mention was made of their pride in breaking an international treaty," Robin Hemley says of Philippine customs officials in the book blockade.

People are up in arms over the issue, yet so far no official action has been taken (Komikero Gerry Alanguilan has a blog post on what we can do about it). We are cautioned that the more we press the matter, the firmer the government will stand by its decision. Even gifts of books from abroad are now being charged by customs, it seems (and the customs officials also READ the blog writer's personal correspondence, who died and left them GOD? Now that they perceive the higher-ups as being on their side, do they think there's no limit to what they can do?) and she is not the only one with the same complaint. I hear from Twitter that Powerbooks will not be in the Manila International Book Fair this year:

"jfnord RT @charlesatan: Talked to Powerbook's GM. #Bookblockade is taxing them 5% for their books. Won't be participating in Manila Book Fair."

So far, although there's talk of official action to be taken, (Miriam has put in her two cents, and scuttlebutt on Twitter is that Loren is going to file a case) none has materialized to date. Instead, our wonderful legislators have chosen to focus on making a big issue of a sex scandal. Heck, even a city council hundreds of miles from Manila was falling all over itself discussing the controversial videos. Whoo hoo, score one for morality (double entendre not intended)!

Yes, I understand that morality (and just plain good old human DECENCY) is a serious matter. But so is literacy. So is education. So why are our good politicians choosing to make a big fuss about these sex scandals to the extent of personally calling for punishment of the people involved yet make no move to call for the investigation into and punishment of people who (a) just made our country violate an international treaty, and (b) just helped to lower our literacy rate even more?

Is it because:
(a) sex scandals are more "interesting" and "juicy" to a lot of people, and thus gives politicians more media coverage for the coming elections (who cares about books anyway, since they do not help to win votes?);
(b) customs duties on books means more revenue, more pork, more kurakot, more income for private storage facilities, in short more money to spend on the upcoming elections, besides, the people implementing the blockade are part of the same institution (the government), so why stop the blockade;
(c) people will shift their attention to the scandal and forget about the blockade; or
(d) (the most insidious of all) they don't really care about the literacy of the people in this country because ignorant people are easier for them to convince and manipulate, so it's better to keep most of the country illiterate and ignorant? I say illiterate and ignorant because a person who cannot read has effectively been barred access to a lot of information that he/she would otherwise have known.

I sense smoke and mirrors here. Lots and lots of smoke and mirrors.

Someone suggested that customs, in fact, is correct in what it is doing, because letting books go through customs tax-free is depriving the country of income, while booksellers make handsome profits out of their books.

FEH. You are weighing income against knowledge? Like those persons who commented in the Philippine Star:

“Books are more of a luxury than a necessity and reading is a hobby for the more affluent”
“If they do that, people would be forced to buy Precious Romance pocketbooks instead of the Harry Potter series or foreign-authored computer science books. At least there would be less inflation by chance.”
“The BoC is right to impose higher taxes on imported books so that people will patronize our own books. We must always buy Pinoy-made products.”

In effect, "books are a privilege of the rich" (facepalm, headdesk, are we still that feudal?). And compare Precious Romance with Harry Potter? True, they are both flights of fantasy, but PR is, sorry to say, pure brain-numbing fluff with kilig moments and steamy scenes thrown in, and with the same plots in endless repetition. I stopped reading them when better books were available, and why should I spend 45 pesos on a 120-page Tagalog romance when I can get a copy of an 800-page award-winning opus for the same price? Conversely, I have a long list of Filipino books I am dying to buy, except that they are all way out of my price range even with an employee's discount. The really good books, the ones I would bother to read, are all priced above 300 pesos each, while I can douse my weekly cravings for reads with three to five second-hand books worth from 15 to 40 pesos each (I have a preciously hoarded paperback copy of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, 15 pesos from Booksale. The benefit I get from it, as a writer and editor: Unmeasurable). It's not the books themselves per se, not the paper and ink and binding, but the words, the concepts, the insights they bring us that cost way, way more than 15 pesos. What price knowledge? What price the boundlessness of the mind? Priceless.

Have you ever had a close encounter with illiteracy?

I once thought of illiteracy in the abstract sense: does not know how to read and write. Fine. But until I met and got to know a person who does not know how to read, I did not know the full sense of the word.

A person who does not know how to read cannot read signage. They cannot read even simple lists. The people I know (and they are among the greatest, most wonderful people I've been privileged to have in my life) have to rely on their children to read and write everything for them.

I once asked one of their children to accompany me to an event. She would be away from home for two days. She regretfully declined because there would be no one to keep her small sari-sari store open. Her mother does not know yet the prices of the goods for sale, she said. I unthinkingly suggested that she just make a price list for her mom. She gave me a strange look and pointed out that her mother would not be able to read the list and would not be able to list down what had been sold and for how much. Such a simple thing that we are used to doing and taking for granted, but she could not do it.

My friend, that mother's daughter, loves to read, in fact cannot get enough of books. She is very happy when I pass on to her those books I've already finished reading; in fact, a good percentage of my personal library is at their house already, where she keeps it under her bed. They are just those 15-30 peso (around 30-70 US cents) secondhand books I find on my regular passes through Recto and Booksale, but their contents are golden to her. Her older sister tells me that she reads the books from cover to cover, almost memorizing them till she can quote them chapter and verse. I know the feeling, right down to putting one's finger on a word in the book to literally pin it down and savor it.

For people like us who love to read, whose reading brings us to other worlds limited only by our minds, barring our access to books, or even just making it harder for us to get them, would be closing doors on us. It would be enclosing us in cages that get smaller and smaller. Some people do not notice the cages because they are more focused on staying alive, but for us who do, it is not a very bearable feeling.

As they say, read or die. Shall we let them kill us, then?

This entry was posted at Thursday, May 21, 2009 and is filed under , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

1 people cared

I ca only agree. Books are teachers and friends. :(

May 21, 2009 at 6:28 PM

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