Saturday, June 27, 2009


One of the most voracious readers among the nation's leaders is the late great Blas Ople whose passion for books is matched only by his passion for writing. The remarkable thing about him is that he did not reach college and his erudition came mostly from reading and spending most of his money on books.

As a member of the Marcos cabinet, he was considered an outstanding secretary with a brilliant mind that even President Marcos, one of the most intelligent leaders of this country, had to ask him to tone down on his scholarly themes so the other cabinet members could understand him. His legendary passion for books reminds me of one French author, Michel de Montaigne, also the mayor of Bordeaux, who was once asked if he were to choose which he would burn first, his books or his children, and without batting an eyelash, answered his children. But of course, that's one decision I totally do not agree with.

Not all Filipino children can be as gifted as Ople because of his love for books. This is more so because our poor children have no ready access to books and other reading materials. Sad to say, the construction of public libraries occupy the lowest priority among our government officials, majority of whom do not realize the value of books. Librarians are among the poorest professionals due to lack of job opportunities. Senators and congressmen should set aside funds from their multi-million pork barrels for the construction of public libraries. Tell me, do you have one in your neighborhood? I thought so.

On that note, what ever happened to Republic Act 7743 signed by former President Fidel Ramos in 1994, providing for the establishment of congressional, city and municipal libraries and barangay reading centers throughout the Philippines? I had earlier called for the establishment of rural libraries to promote the development of intellectual facilities of the people since we had noted the utter lack of such libraries not only in the urban but also in the rural areas.

The little-heard of and apparently unimplemented law mandates that the National Library, in coordination with the Department of Interior and Local Government shall undertake the establishment of public libraries to serve all congressional districts, cities and municipalities and reading centers in all barangay units. The National Library shall also coordinate and organize seminars, workshops and other trainings for the professional advancement of librarians. It provides for appropriations from both the national and local government units to fund such public libraries and reading centers. Sad to say, a visit to most rural areas would reveal that public libraries and reading centers are non-existent.

Some officials are clearly sleeping on the job or simply cannot put it in their thick skulls that such libraries are vital to the moral and intellectual development of a nation. It's a pity that R.A. 7743 I believe has not been implemented. I was particularly impressed with the provisions on the functions of the libraries as:

- To make available to members of the community a wide array of reading materials including those prescribed by the Department of Education, and national newspapers of general circulation.
- To be used as venue for audio-visual presentations in the community and other kinds of exhibitions and activities, aimed at increasing the literacy rate, by government agencies, NGOs or private entities in the dissemination of information of general interest.

Remember, a well-read and a well-informed citizenry make for a strong and progressive nation.

But then again, can you blame a top spouse if his idea of a library is a collection of coloring books? I thought so too.

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