Thursday, May 28, 2009

"A Republic Of Letters"

MLQ3 twitted this article from the Philippine Daily Inquirer: "A Republic Of Letters". An excerpt:

The President ain’t deaf. Press Secretary Cerge Remonde gave that spin to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s sensible order to Finance Secretary Margarito Teves to scrap taxes, clamped by the Bureau of Customs, on imported books and reading materials.

“Books give light to my eyes,” the Ibanag proverb says.

“President Arroyo wants books to be within reach of the common man,” spinmeister Remonde explained. “She believes reading has 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 sluice gates by showing in his Philippine Daily 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.

The BoC claimed that the word “only” in RA 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. Neither may customs attempt to insert for whatever purpose what Congress did not insert.”

The uproar over the book levy resembles the firestorm that earlier engulfed Cebu City officials when 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. Which is 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 4, 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 miseducating students. Rather, they fretted over publishing moguls’ balance sheets. A Senate probe fizzled.

Twelve years after the House of Representatives 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 that error-filled textbooks proliferated nationwide. The problem stemmed 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,” the Manila Chronicle’s I.P. Soliongco wrote in 1957. “If this test were applied to the Philippines, it would be found that we’re one of the most backwards in the world.”

Quezon provided this overdue test. Amor propio, however, prodded customs bureaucrats to stonewall, noted Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr. That underscored the bureaucratic mindset.

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