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July 19, 2004

Newly-filed legislative proposals with the Senate and the Lower House push for the creation of a book development trust fund envisioned to benefit the sector which for too long has been relegated to the backseat in terms of governmental attention and support.

Senate Bill No. 78 and House Bill No. 1531, which both seek to establish the National Book Development Trust Fund, aim to promote the welfare of authors, especially those unknown yet talented ones in the regions or provinces, by supporting them financially so that they can work full-time on their manuscripts or research works.

Considered milestone legislations in the field of local book development, said initiatives were filed and sponsored by Senator Luisa “Loi” Ejercito Estrada and newly elected Iloilo City Representative Raul Gonzalez Jr., respectively.

The twin proposals sprung from the findings of a study conducted by the National Book Development Board (NBDB), the country’s lead government agency on book development and readership promotion.

Most regional or provincial authors, the study reveals, have begun manuscripts or research works that take too long to finish because they are preoccupied with earning a living for themselves and their loved ones. What usually happens then is that they, on account of financial difficulties, abandon their manuscripts or research works.

With the trust fund’s help, however, authors may opt to take a leave from their jobs and finish their manuscripts or research works without starving themselves and their families because they would be enjoying financial backing.

The study, which also inspired earlier legislative attempts made by former Senate Majority Leader Loren Legarda and former Deputy Speaker for Visayas Raul Gonzalez, further shows that the majority of locally published books are products of authors based in the National Capital Region, where most of the big publishers are also situated.

Such inequity in terms of opportunities has thus resulted in scores of authors from other parts of the country laboring in anonymity and suffering from financial dearth and especially lack of access to established publishers that are willing to invest on regional or provincial authors.

Estrada and Gonzalez are convinced that there are many talented authors, writers, and researchers in the regions that can put in writing their local knowledge and local stories. They can also write scientific and technical books that fit their local contexts, while others can translate classic works into the local languages.

The trust fund intends to support works on science and technology, local history, and subject areas wherein locally authored books are few or non-existent, and also aims to facilitate the development of stories and books for children that reflect Filipino culture and inspire pride in local history and national identity.

At least 65 grants will be awarded every year to deserving authors, writers, or researchers in the country, to enable them to produce or finish excellent manuscripts or research works for publication.

The proponents of the trust fund believe that the grants, which will be distributed equitably among the regions, could go a long way towards the production of a greater number and variety of non-school books as well as primary, secondary, and higher education textbooks that are useful and relevant to the local context of Filipino students.

In a country that boasts of 94.6% literacy rate, the National Book Development Trust Fund, Estrada and Gonzalez say, is expected to bring Filipinos closer to the day when every region and province has enough good authors who get published, and every region has a dynamic book trade with other regions.