Sitio Aspang, Barangay San Jose, General Santos City. Life goes on here for scores of Blaan schoolchildren, in this sleepy little sitio up in the mountains off
. Not one of the children here has seen a library, or knows what a library is. Had RA 7743 been implemented, the absence of a school library would have been addressed by a reading center in their barangay. But there is none either. I wonder if the members of the barangay council are even aware that in 1993, Republic Act 7743, otherwise known as An Act Providing for the Establishment of Congressional, City and Municipal Libraries and General Santos City Barangay Reading Centers throughout the was passed. Seventeen years hence, the country is still too far from implementing this mandate fully. Philippines
Now here comes Senate Bill 1428, sponsored by library advocate Sen. Loren Legarda. It seeks to amend RA 7743 to ensure that “all public libraries (in the
) adhere to the demands of a globalized Filipino nation.” In order to do this, the bill seeks to increase the budget of the National Library to PHP5M per year so that it is able to provide reading materials and supplies to public libraries. It mandates “local government units to undertake the maintenance of public libraries and reading centers”. This, ”until all municipalities and cities have access to full electronic library facilities.” Timeline is 2013. Philippines
As an advocate for public libraries, I should be rejoicing. For once again, courtesy of SB1428, public libraries are put back to limelight and the consciousness of the Filipino people. Hopefully it will draw long-overdue attention to the advocacy for public libraries, an advocacy that seems to have drowned amidst a sea of other basic priorities. While a part of me rejoices, the other part wonders.
I wonder whether the amendment to the existing mandate came after an assessment of the implementation of RA 7743, such that the whys of its poor implementation are understood and appropriately addressed. I wonder whether the amendment bill drew important lessons from the previous mandate such that history does not repeat itself. I wonder how an amendment to a poorly-implemented mandate can now be guaranteed its well-deserved support from the implementing government units and agencies at the local level. I wonder how implementation will look like without drumbeating this advocacy so that public libraries are resurrected back to the consciousness of the Filipinos, in general, and the implementers, in particular. I wonder whether 2013 is a reasonable deadline, considering the absence of information and communication infrastructures in most of the remote communities in the
I do not doubt RA 7743 and SB 1428’s intentions. I know they are noble and clear. But like other mandates, translating them to concrete terms is a straightforward question of political will. Political will, over and above the absence of resources and capacities (which often become excuses more than causes), seems to be SB1428s only hope.
Until then, Sitio Aspang, Barangay San Jose,
, like other remote communities in the country, will continue to see their children navigating ill or less-equipped their increasingly information and technology-driven environments. They will continue to see children growing old without knowing what a public library is, and how much that public learning place can contribute to both their individual development and the transformation of their communities. General Santos City
Despite all apprehensions, I still choose to pin my hopes.