International Publishers Association Annual General Meeting, Frankfurt, October 2007
FREEDOM TO PUBLISH IN 2007:
DEVELOPMENTS IN THE PHILIPPINES
By: Atty. Dominador D. Buhain
President, Rex Book Store, Inc.
President Emeritus, Philippine Educational Publishers Association
Chairman, Philippine Reprographic Rights Organization
President, ASEAN Book Publishers Association
Freedom, it has been said, is not given; it is taken and fought for. Since the national patriot, Jose Rizal, wrote a sequel of two novels in the late 19th century and turned the tide and the century for his countrymen, the Philippines has had a vigorous tradition of free press, not because of government protection or encouragement but due to the courage and daring of the Filipino people, whether writers or farmers.
Several recent developments in the country have threatened the freedom to publish in the Philippines. Foremost among these are (1) the enactment of the Human Security Act of 2007 (Republic Act 9372); (2) a series of more than 50 defamation suits against at least 43 journalist, broadcasters, and other media people filed in the courts by Atty. Jose Miguel T. Arroyo, husband of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo; and (3) the continuing spate of assassinations of journalist and other media people that have ranked the Philippines in the last few years as the second (next only to Iraq) most dangerous place for journalists and media people.
The Human Security Act of 2007 (R.A. 9372)
Enacted on March 6, 2007 after years of American pressure consequent to 9/11, R.A. 9372, despite its very euphemistic title, is simply referred to as the Anti-Terror or Anti-Terrorism Act. It was to take effect on July 14, 2007, two months after the May 14 national elections but its effectivity has been suspended while its constitutionality is under review by the Supreme Court.
On signing the law, President Arroyo assured the public that the extra powers given to law enforcement agencies would not be used to crack down on her opponents and critics, and would not result in human rights abuses by the military. Speaking at Publish Asia 2007 conference held on 27-28 March 2007 in Manila before more than 400 publishers, officers, editors and writers of Asia’s leading newspapers, she vowed to uphold freedom of the Philippine press which she said has the power and responsibility to promotion national renewal and reform (Cagahastian, 2007).
Reacting differently to the new law, however, the Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace (EMJP) on 20 June 2007 opposed its implementation, believing that the law will put the Filipinos at the mercy of the State and will be used to justify continued militarization especially in the rural communities.
Likewise, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) expressed apprehension about this law “on the basis of constitutionalism and provisions that may legalize objectionable methods of fighting and quelling opposition to the obtaining government.” The CBCP specified questionable provisions such as the broad and dangerous definition of terrorism, allowing house arrest despite the posting of bail and prohibiting the right to travel and to communicate with others, provision for seizure of assets and surveillance or wiretapping of any person charged with or suspected of the crime of terrorism or conspiracy to commit terrorism.
The Philippines is not alone in its concern that national security could be used by the state to abridge basic freedoms including the right to information and expression. Some 150 predomocracy leaders and activists from over 20 countries who attended the World Forum for Democratization in Asia held in Manila last month called on all governments in the Pacific Rim to reject military and authoritarian regimes. They said, “Democracy and peace are both basic rights of all peoples, universal, indivisible, interdependent, and interrelated..” We deplore the use of national security as a pretext for attacks on democracy and suppression of human rights in many Asian countries…” (Luci, 2007).
Newspaper and Broadcast Publishing: Threat to Life
The threats of the Human Security Act of 2007 on the freedom to publish are not empty. In the last five years, the Philippines has been second only to Iraq as the most dangerous spot for journalists, radio and television broadcasters, and other political media men (Reporters Without Borders, 2006) – Extra-judicial killings by hired killers believed to be masterminded or perpetrated by government agents and functionaries remain unsolved. Opinion writers continue to receive death threats by text, phone or funeral wreaths. The conviction of the killers of radio presenter Marilyn Esperat (died 2005) did not assuage the wounds of family and the press because the masterminds remain free. The conviction of columnist Raffy D. Tulfo for the crime of defamation with imprisonment sentence for 32 years was no passing matter to more than 40 journalists and media men who were charged early this years of the crime of defamation by Atty. Jose Miguel T. Arroyo, husband of President Gloria M. Arroyo. The First Gentleman has withdrawn his complaints after surviving a life-or-death surgery in April 2007. It is hoped that this act of mercy will strengthen the freedom to publish in the country.
Another side of the same coin is a bill already gaining acceptance at the House of Representatives. House Bill 1001 grants the right of reply to all persons either accused directly or indirectly of committing any crime or offense, or criticized by innuendo, suggestion or rumor for any lapse in behavior in public or private life. The reply shall be published in the same space of the newspapers, magazine, newsletter or publication or aired over the same program on radio, television, and website or through any electronic wave. Failure or refusal to publish the reply is subject to proposed fines for the first and second offenses and fine with imprisonment for the third offense against the editor-in-chief and the publisher, or station manager and owner of the broadcast medium. The penalty can go up to closure or suspension of franchise for30 days. Well-intended to provide a two-way communication street, the bill can foster a heavy traffic of gratuitous replies if not stifle the barks of the watchdog press.
Book Publishing: Besieged by Illegal Copying
The book publishing industry in the Philippines is besieged by copyright piracy and by government policies to intervene in the business of publishing and regulations that impose additional financial burdens on the industry. It also suffers the neglect of the general reading public in a country of non-readers.
The freedom to publish books in the Philippines is seriously curtailed by acts that infringe the copyright of authors and publishers and threaten the viability of the business legitimate publishers and by extension adversely weaken national progress. These piratical acts are carried on as unauthorized and unlicensed reprinting, rampant photocopying, scanning and digital reproduction. The perpetrators are others in the book industry, end users in government offices and private corporations, in the faculty offices, libraries and photocopying shops in and around the campuses of tertiary educational institutions, in the offices and clinics of professionals and of professional and research associations, and in commercial photocopying shops. Advanced reprographic and electronic technology enable illicit commercial copy centers to provide fast and easy virtual copies of textbooks for the major university campuses The American Association of Publishers (AAP), whose members incur a major portion of the losses suffered due to copyright piracy in the Philippines, monitor these violations.
In 2007, the Philippines has been removed from the list of the countries on the Priority Watch List of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), although it is still listed by the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) among countries for Special 301 out-of-cycle reviews. Doubtless the AAP’s move to delist the Philippines from the USTR Priority Watch List was earned by the dynamic and determined initiatives of the Philippine government, through Intellectual Property Philippines (IPP) under Director General Adrian S. Cristobal Jr. to protect copyright and penalize piracy. The National Committee on Intellectual Property Rights was established in 2005 to coordinate government efforts against piracy. In the first half of 2007, more than 2,694,655 pieces of pirated goods with estimated value of Php 1.25 billion were seized by the National Bureau of Investigation, the Philippine National Police, the Optical Media Board, and the Bureau of Customs. The IP Case Database, a monitoring system on the status of IPR cases in the country was launched on February 22, 2007. As of April 2007, 113 new complaints were received, adding to the 823 pending cases as of December 2006. Of these, 142 cases were disposed of, with 48 cases dismissed under preliminary investigation, 91 cases filed in court, and 3 motions to reconsider were denied. From 2001 to 2007, 16 copyright infringement cases resulted in conviction.
The Private-Public Partnership Council for Intellectual Property Rights Council (P3CIPR) was also organized to strengthen law enforcement. Included in the Council are two collective management societies, the FILSCAP (Filipino Society of Composers, Artists and Performers) and the Philippine Reprographic Rights Organization (PRRO), which was organized by the National Book Development Board in 2001.
For decades, the Filipino people’s passion for education has ranked among the highest in the world, with a large percentage of its very young population enrolled in basic public (90%) and private (10%) schools. It is no surprise that textbook publishing has been the largest publishing sector, accounting for about 75% of the 5,000 or so titles produced in the country annually.
Nevertheless, government expenditure per student has been historically low, a mere pittance of what other Asian countries allocate for their youth. Little or no budget is available for textbooks and school libraries. This is a major cause of the textbook and educational quality crises in the public school system.
Government foray in textbook production. In the marital law years, World Bank-IMF supported a massive government textbook development and production project to supply one textbook per pupil in all school subjects. Under the Educational Projects Implementing Task Force (EDPITAF), the project became a model for other developing countries. After EDPITAF, its successor, the quasi-governmental Instructional Materials Corporation, involved the private printing industry in the production of the textbooks while retaining control of publishing and distribution. Massive graft and corruption in the government textbook monopoly in the 1990s led to the recurrence of textbook shortage and breakdown in quality and standards. The Philippine Educational Publishers Association (PEPA) sought the enactment of Republic Act No. 8047 (Book Publishing Industry Development Act) establishing the National Book Development Board to take charge of the formulation, adoption, and implementation of the National Book Policy (Amatong & Ulangca, 2007). The National Book Policy emphasized private sector initiative in the industry and have the private sector assume the production and distribution functions in the drive to provide one textbooks imposed by external assistance bodies in the new century continues to sustain a public textbook monopoly.
Textbook evaluation. Textbook publishing for public basic education has been subjected to various forms of textbook evaluation that interfere with the production process.
- Textbook boards. Since the establishment of the Philippine public education system under the American regime in the first decade of the 20th century, different forms of centralized textbook evaluation board have been in place. It was started by a school library supervisor who periodically drew up a list of books, reference books and supplementary readers to encourage and guide the procurement of books for school libraries. The list soon became a mandatory list of board-approved textbooks and supplementary readers outside of which no title was acquired by any public school anywhere in the entire archipelago. Under independent Philippines, the public textbook evaluation system took on pre-publication and post-publication forms that soon became a breeding ground of graft and corruption in a highly centralized procurement system.
- A Self-appointed One-man Textbook Watchdog. The government textbook evaluation system took a private twist in recent years. A teacher in a small private school has plagued the textbook publishing industry by periodically making a list of errors in face or language which he claims are found in textbooks approved for use in the public schools. The self-appointed critic appears to be a generalist who has criticized textbooks in various subjects taught at basic educational levels. He has publicized his lists in newspaper advertisements. Two daily newspapers of national circulation (one of them probably the most widely circulated daily) has been quick to give him sensational front page coverage. No less than the Secretary of the Department of Education (DepEd) textbook evaluation system.
- The National Book Development Board (NBDB) Seal of Quality. Seeking to help resolve the question of quality textbooks, the NBDB publicized in September 2007 a two-or three-layered procedure to stamp nominated textbooks with its seal, albeit to guide the private educational sector. Select area expert committees will make choices which will be subject to some review or validation by NBDB authorities.
The sole criterion for quality should be determined by market forces. The evaluation and choice of titles to be used should be done at the lowest authority level (such as the teacher and school administrators) as in now done in the private school sector. As many authors and textbook publishers as possible should be allowed to flourish to allow books and ideas to flow for the ultimate benefit of the country and its people. A modicum of laws and regulations is essential for the freedom to publish books, particularly laws against unfair competition and trade practices, fiscal system for publishers, and copyright laws. Otherwise, the publishing industry should be free from government involvement as publishers or book critic. As the International Publishers Association (IPA) has affirmed, “government involvement in the publishing industry should be confined to encouragement in their fields of fiscal relief, free circulation of books and promotion of trade, literacy and education, leaving the work of actual book selection, production, and distribution to the private sector.”
The Printing Industry
The printing part of the publishing business is even more afflicted than the publishers. About 70% of the country’s 5,000 printing houses are located in Metro Manila. Most of them are very small: about 50% with capitalization of less than Php 5 million and less than 10% with capitalization of over Php 100 million. Very few can afford to replenish their equipment with advanced printing technology that cost from Php 50 million to Php 100 million, considering that the return on investment in the local market has been dwindling. Only 10% have access to such equipment at present. No Philippine printer qualified in the latest bidding for the printing of public school textbooks conducted by the Department of Education this year. In contrast, printers from Thailand won printing contracts. Thailand’s 5,000 printing houses target the export of US$750,000,000 of printed materials by 2010 (Amatong and Ulangca, 2007, p.65).
A Nation of Nonreaders
Filipinos are not readers. There is no reading culture in the country, despite the plethora of schools from preschool to graduate school. This was recognized in the National Book Development Board (NDB) as a result of readership surveys conducted by the Social Weather Station, the top polling entity. Consequently, the NBDB has advocated reading throughout the country. The DepEd developed an every-child-a-reader at Grade 3 program. About a handful of publishers produced picture books. Foremost in output volume is Adarna House. Television developed a local version of Sesame Street which became very popular but was unable to sustain it. The National Book Store with almost 100 branches has carried the books throughout the nation. But it is a stunted market for kids’ books (Jimeno, 2007) for most families are too poor to buy books for their children. Publishers and sellers of the books cater to only a small market.
Libraries are not endowed to build significant collections and to replenish the book supply continuously to keep whatever readers coming. The few provincial, city, and municipal libraries receive books from the National Library and newspapers from their provincial or local government unit, and cater mostly to the elementary and high school crowd, with not much to entice the out-of-school youth and adult population. Unable to develop school libraries in the 37,000 public elementary schools, the DepEd embarked on a program to build library hubs in each of the 186 school divisions. Each hub with 25,000 to 50,000 books would move collections from school to school. About 35 library hubs have been set up by early 2007.
Philanthropists have built libraries in a few schools and in some communities. But the task of maintaining libraries need the generous support of local school boards and government units.
Freedom to publish in the Philippines needs courageous writers and publishers. Government support is provided by the National Book Development Board but even the NBDB has very scant resources. IP Philippines is dynamic in its drive to protect the copyright system and punish piracy. Government should provide greater opportunities for the private educational publishers to share in the benefits of a large public school system, which is the most significant book market. Higher educational institutions should lead in the promotion of authorship and publishing by paying royalty for the reproduction of copyright materials from their libraries by their students, faculty, researchers, and staff. Freedom to publish will empower the majority of the people in their economic life, as in fact that freedom has empowered the Filipino people for political change.
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