Freedom to Dream: Philippine Daily Inquirer editorial
22 November 2009
WHEN news broke that candy Quimpo-Gourlay, former deskperson of this paper in the 1980s, was going to be published by David Ficking Books (an imprint of renowned publisher Random House), the country was thrilled. Her novel for children, “Tall Story”—about an eight-foot-tall Filipino boy, Nardo and his Filipino-English sister, Andi; and which the author describes as a tale “about basketball, culture clash and belonging. [It’s] funny, sad and [magical] at the same time”—will, it is hoped, prosper and gain the readership it deserves.
Equally noteworthy is that a Filipino publisher, Cacho Hermanos, will be releasing the book domestically in the coming months. Rayvi Sunico, manager of Cacho, is of the opinion that “getting her [Quimpo-Gourlay] read here would benefit not only the growing field of Philippine Young Adult lit but inspire many young Filipinos.”
We tend to equate the young, not with books, but video games and social media. No one, however, who has been touched by the Harry Potter phenomenon can continue to assume that books are terra incognita either for kids or young adults. Indeed, the success of another series, “Twilight,” was enough to spark a political cause célèbre in this country.
The demand for the vampire novel “Twilight” led to such a volume of imports that the Bureau of Customs and Department of Finance saw an opportunity for additional income, even if it meant the country turning its back on international agreements and bending local laws. In the end, President Macapagal-Arroyo had to intervene as Filipino book lovers demonstrated People Power, and international institutions publicly mused if the Philippines ought to go down the road of being a rogue state.
In her last State of the Nation Address the President formally recommitted the country to being a dutiful member of the family of civilized nations, except for some fine print on the part of her officials. Bookstores and importers continue to enjoy the privileges conferred on them by law and statute, while the DOF and BOC continue to impose illegal import duties on ordinary citizens, who lack congressmen, senators or an organized business to lobby on their side.
The result is ordinary Filipino readers who receive books whether as gifts or from the hard-earned money of their parents or from themselves, are mercilessly and, quite often, arbitrarily taxed by Customs.
Still, in a sense, that a population—in particular, a segment of that population, the young—hungers for books to the extent that bureaucrats sense opportunities for extortion is a good sign. It shows that the potential for a reading society is there; for a reading society is a healthy one. And how much better it will be, if among the books consumed by young Filipino readers are the products of the imagination and values of their compatriots.
We can only look forward to teens, entranced by Harry Potter and the “Twilight” cast of characters, to add to their mental menageries the characters created by our own culture, our own writers, speaking of values and ideals that are our own, too.
As societies like ours ponder the challenges of the new century, it’s well to remember what so many experts are finding out: in an age of technology and globalization, it’s imagination, it’s culture, it’s art and, that provide the creative spark required for true development and human happiness.
As the nation approaches the holiday season, with its hopes and, we believe, an insistence on compassion and values born of this year’s losses and tragedies, let’s hope we also commit to making this holiday one not of mercenary dreams, but of a liberating imagination: the kind that is inspired by wholesome books.