In my appearance in Boy Abunda’s “Private Conversations” many years ago, I was asked what’s my idea of being rich, and I replied, “just to have enough money in my wallet to be able to buy a good book I want when I see one.”
I said that because in my struggling days, I would have to save to be able to buy a book I want and by the time I have enough money for it, the book is gone. It was so frustrating.
With credit cards, half of my problem is solved. But there is still the problem of cost. Prices of bookpaper-bound books usually cost about P500. Much higher, up to P1,000 plus, if its hardbound.
At this time of budget scrimping, books usually are the first item to be deleted in the list in favor of the more basic necessities of food, shelter, transport, clothes and cellphone text. Which is a pity because books are nourishment for the mind and soul which is important to be a productive human being.
That’s why the Department of Finance’s idea of imposing taxes on imported books is undesirable. It has the effect of depriving the mind of people in the Philippines of food. It’s not only destroying the people’s wellbeing (what is a person with nothing in his mind) but also the nation’s soul.
An article by Robin Hemley, “The Great Book Blockade of 2009” related that the DOF, which is hardpressed trying to raise funds to sustain Gloria Arroyo’s corruption riddled government, came up with this not-so-brilliant idea when a custom examiner named Rene Agulan opened a shipment of the best-selling novel, “Twilight” by Stephanie Meyer. Agulan demanded that duty be paid on the books.
That was a violation of the “Florence Agreement on the Importation of Educational, Scientific and Cultural Materials” which states that the contracting States (that includes the Philippines) “undertake not to apply customs duties or other charges on, or in connection with, the importation of … books, publications and documents… educational, scientific and cultural materials..”
Last March 24, the DOF issued a clarificatory guideline which imposes one percent rate of duty on educational, scientific, historical or cultural books and materials or five percent rate of duty for books and materials other than educational, scientific, historical or cultural and “those books or raw materials not to be used for publishing and its related activities.”
I have the feeling that these people in the finance department do not read books. That’s dreadful because how does a non-book reading custom official make a distinction which book should have one percent tax or five percent tax?
In a full page open letter to Gloria Arroyo published in newspapers yesterday, members of different book associations said the DOF Order 17-09 not only violates the Florence agreement but also R.A. 8047 or the Book Publishing Industry Development Act.
“The imposition of duty on book importations, no matter how minimal, will increase the cost to our readers, which in turn will fundamentally affect the quality of education, literacy and over-all access to information and knowledge. Our young need to be educated and become literate to a high degree to be competitive in the emerging world market. This requires world-class and world-wide access to information and knowledge through books.”
The UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) national Commission of the Philippines last Saturday issued a statement objecting to the DOF order.
It noted that “the tax scheme has an inherent anti-poor bias as it is the marginalized sectors that will be most adversely affected by more expensive publications. Taxes on imported books and other publications will definitely widen the ‘knowledge divide’ between the rich and poor sectors of society and therefore run counter to UNESCO’s vision of building an ‘inclusive’ society.
“Taxing imported books is tantamount to taxing reading habits. At a time when parents and educators worldwide have expressed alarm on the continuing steep decline in the reading habits and practices especially among the young, the tax measure is counterproductive to current initiatives to rekindle a reading culture. The measure would surely further discourage young and even old minds from appreciating, recognizing and rediscovering the value of reading.,”
The Commission further said that while they recognize the government’s need for additional revenues, they should refrain from getting it from imported books “that feed the minds especially of our young generation.”
“ Such action can only succeed in taxing our future,” the Commission said.
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