Jan. 25-31, 2013

Leo Dioso’s passion for reading dates back to his childhood when, as a nine-year-old boy growing up in Manila, he would “rent” copies of Classics Illustrated comic books from traveling book vendors.

Using money left over from his pay as a part-time newspaper salesboy, Leo would lean against a wall and finish adaptations of classics like Moby Dick and Robinson Crusoe in minutes.

Now, some 40 years after the Classics Illustrated series was discontinued, Dioso is the one providing literature to children.

Only he’s not renting or selling books.

Back in April of 2004, Sally Zaldivar Perez, the then Governor of Antique, along with Pandan Mayor John Sanchez cut the ribbon on the Leocadio Alonsagay Dioso Memorial Public Library in his adopted hometown of Pandan, Antique.

The library — which is named for Dioso’s late father — is the only public library in the northern half (which covers 10 towns, with a combined population of 275,000) of the 1,000+ square mile province.

The National Library of the Philippines regards it as one of the finest libraries in the entire country.

Set against the back drop of the Sulu Sea, the library boasts a catalog of more than 20,000 fiction and nonfiction books, reference materials, audio books, videotapes, DVDs, local newspapers and international magazines.

In addition, they also offer regular storytelling, read-aloud sessions and puppet shows, all aimed at promoting reading to young children.

“When a famous mountain climber was asked why he wanted to climb one really tough mountain, his reply was ‘Because it’s there!,’” said Dioso.

“I had a different reason for building a public library myself in my adopted hometown of Pandan: because it wasn’t there. I have long believed that reading is essential to be successful in life, which is not possible through formal education and experience alone.”

Leo Dioso was born in the Antique town of Patnongon but was raised in Manila after his father relocated the family for a government job.

Dioso lived there and studied at La Salle University and San Beda College until he was 19, when his father once again relocated his mother and three siblings, this time to New York City to serve as a diplomat with the Philippine Mission to the United Nations.

When Dioso visited the family in New York in December 1960, his father took him to the UN Headquarters.

There the two ran into a high-ranking UN official who half-seriously asked the teenager if he was interested in a position at the UN.

Leo jumped at the offer, and the man informed him that the personnel department was holding an accounting clerical test the following week and offered to arrange for him to take the test.

Dioso passed the test, and thus began a 40-year career, working primarily in the field of internal auditing.

As part of his work, Dioso traveled the world, inspecting and evaluating peacekeeping missions, refugee projects, and technical assistance programs (environmental, crime and drug-control, etc.).


Leocadio Alonsagay Dioso Memorial Public Library in Pandan, Antique.

Dioso started at the bottom, beginning as an audit clerk, and ending as principal officer/deputy director, UN Office of Internal Oversight Services/Internal Audit Division.

On separate occasions, Dioso was loaned to serve as Chief Administrative Officer of the Secretariat for the International Conference on the Question of Palestine (1983-84); as Chief Finance Officer of the United Nations Operation in Mozambique (1993-1994); and Chief Administrative Services of the United Nations Mission in Haiti (1994-1995).

By the time he retired from full-time service in 2001, Dioso was one of the two highest-ranking Filipinos in the U.N. Secretariat.

His work-related travel provided him with plenty of time to indulge his love for books, which is a passion that Dioso would pass onto his two sons, Lee and John.

“I made it a practice to take my two sons to the public library almost every week in Hartsdale (Westchester County, N.Y.), where they grew up and studied through their senior high school year,” said Dioso.

“I was so pleased when I learned later on that they had adopted this practice with regard to their own children. I could see how their regular exposure to books and having a lifelong love affair with reading have helped both of them throughout their school years and afterward during their own professional careers.”

Today, Lee Dioso is a partner in an engineering firm in Virginia specializing in ecological cleanup, and John Dioso is a former deputy managing editor at Rolling Stone magazine.

The influence has certainly rubbed off.

After retiring from full-time employment, Dioso set upon the task of providing reading opportunities to future generations in Pandan.

Pandan, like most of the towns in Antique and two-thirds of the nearly 1,500 towns in the Philippines, had never had a public library.

Although Philippine law (Republic Act 7743) mandates the creation and operation of public libraries in every congressional district, city and municipality, there are only 686 public libraries operating in the country.

That’s a shortage of 1,132 libraries. Of the 686 libraries in existence, many are troubled by a lack of funding or are otherwise ill-equipped.

To make matters worse, building libraries isn’t a high priority for the country.

The Philippines is currently ranked 104th in the world on spending for education, with only 2.1% of its Gross Domestic Product being allocated for educational purposes.

When the Dioso Library initially opened, many of the locals didn’t know what to make of the building.

“Many people thought they had to make a special appointment — like a doctor’s appointment — and get a special pass to enter, let alone use the library,” said Dioso.

“The people of Pandan had never been exposed to a public library and, because of this, plus the impression created by the library building, it took them quite a while to accept and regard the library for what it is: something made for the use, benefit and enjoyment of the general public, like a park.”

“It helps the students develop reading habit and make research and enjoy staying in the library instead of going somewhere and be with anyone giving bad influence,” said Pandan’s Mayor Jonathan D. Tan.

“We hope it will cater to more people from other barangays and neighboring towns.”

The library receives annual financial grants from the municipal government and, until three years ago, from the provincial government as well.

Whatever isn’t covered by these government grants comes out of Dioso’s pocket.

Dioso’s creation in Pandan has expanded his horizons for the possibilities for the rest of the country.

Having seen the impact that one library has had on its community, Dioso has set out to close the gap on the 1,163 library deficit.

Last July, Dioso traveled to San Francisco, Calif., to finalize plans for the launching of a project aimed at resolving, in a concerted way, the long-time problem of the severe lack of public libraries in the Philippines.

The project will involve the building and equipping of at least 1,000 libraries throughout the country, within a 10-year period.

The establishment of these libraries will be carried out in the 17 regions that make up the Philippines, one region and one province within a region at a time. 

Region VI (Western Visayas) and Antique have been selected as the project’s first target region and province, respectively.

A total of 17 libraries will be built and equipped in Antique within an 18-month period.

As part of the project, says Dioso, two nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations — the “Americans & Friends for Public Libraries, Inc.” in the U.S. and “Pinoys for Public Libraries, Inc.” in the Philippines — are being established.  

They will serve as fiscal agents for the receipt, overall control and use of donations to the project.

According to the proposal for the Philippine Library Building Project (or the BuildLibs Project, as Dioso calls it), funding for the libraries would come from “major corporate and institutional sponsors” in the U.S. and the Philippines, as well as “government allocations and voluntary contributions from private individuals.”

While plans are being worked out for the project’s main operational phase are worked out, Dioso seems pleased with the prospects for success.

Through BuildLibs, Dioso is set to finish what he started in Pandan.

On Nov. 27 of last year, Dioso set out to make a statement to the Philippines and world that Pandan is a reading town.

On National Reading Month’s “Araw ng Pagbasa” (Day of Reading), Dioso hosted a short read-aloud session in Pandan in conjunction with the mayor, all of the barangay captains and the heads of the town’s 40 schools.

The reading was of the Anglican hymn/poem “All things bright and beautiful,” and began at 9 a.m. to coincide with President Benigno Aquino III’s own reading session on the 80th birthday of his late father.

The event attracted an estimated 15,000 readers along the highway, stretching 18 kilometers from Pandan’s southern boundary with the town of Sebaste, to Pandan’s northwestern boundary with Libertad.

This, in a town with a population of just 34,000.

“The event was the town’s way of proclaiming in one loud voice its strong support and belief in the importance of education in general and reading in particular,” said Dioso.

Dioso hopes his efforts inspire others to follow in his footsteps.

One thing is for sure: his efforts have already touched many.


Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler; a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA); and a member of The Ring ratings panel. He can be reached at: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.


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