For the past month, book lovers have been voicing opinions, signing online petitions and inciting mass actions to take up what is turning out to be the greatest cause literary lovers have advocated in a long while.
What is incurring their ire: The Bureau of Customs (BOC) has imposed one-percent import duties on "educational" books" and five percent for "non-educational" books, at the same time blocking air shipments of books from coming into the country in January 2009, according to a report by writer Robin Hemley in mcsweeneys.net. Hemley is the Director of the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa who is in the country on a Guggenheim Fellowship.
Following what Henley has been dubbed as the 'Great Book Blockade of 2009' is a flurry of activity to raise awareness for the issue and voice opposition against the taxation mandate. The BOC move supposedly violates the Florence Agreement, a treaty signed by the Republic of the Philippines as a member state of the UNESCO. Under the agreement, "books, newspapers, periodicals and many other categories of printed matter are granted duty-free entry…The exemption granted to books is not subject to any qualifications as to their educational, scientific and cultural character."
Avid book readers, newspaper columnists most notably Manuel Quezon III, the Book Development Association of the Philippines, and more recently, Senators Miriam Santiago, Edgardo Angara, Mar Roxas III and Richard Gordon, and countless bloggers have been using all mediums possible, including a Facebook igroup called FILIPINOS AGAINST THE TAXATION OF BOOKS BY CUSTOMS included, to oppose the possibility of reading material becoming more expensive in the country because of the taxes imposed on books.
To date, 12,275 members have joined the cause on Facebook, created by lensman Louie Aguinaldo. Among the growing number of supporters include artist Nina Tesoro-Poblador, blogger Spanky Enriquez, philanthropist Kitkat Zobel, chef and food writer Claude Tayag, and architect Dan Lichauco. "The Bureau of Customs does not and should not have the authority to determine which books are educational and which are not," the group states on its page.
Blame the vampires from Twilight or the folks at the BOC?
According to Hemley's dispatch, brisk sales of the Twilight books by American author Stephenie Meyer may have started the Philippine book blockade. Large shipments of the books chronicling the love story of a teenage mortal and a vampire were being brought into the country at the height of its popularity. He said that no new imported books have reached local bookshelves in February and March after the Customs bureau imposed import duties on books.
In a Philippine Star article, BOC Deputy Commissioner Alexander Arevalo said "the public might not even be aware that they have been paying duties for books for a long time now. The book importers know about this. Maybe the readers do not know that they have been paying duties."
Last May 12, the BOC uploaded the Finance department's order and clarificatory guidelines in their website to appease book lovers and provide clarifications on the issue.
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What does this mean for book lovers?
According to Xandra Ramos-Padilla of National Bookstore, the taxation "affects the whole industry, from the biggest booksellers to the smaller bookstores. National Bookstore has always tried to price the books as low as possible and right now, we are absorbing the costs. We'll try to keep absorbing it as long as we can, and give the consumers the best prices possible."
"It's a travesty," says Xandra, an avid reader, about books being taxed. "As a booklover, I learn from every book that I read, and to say that a work of fiction is not educational, is just sad."
Fully Booked was not available to comment on the issue. Attorney Andrea Pasion-Flores of the National Book Development Board (NBDB) shared that they will similarly post their position paper on their website next week, and that NBDB will have a meeting with Secretary Teves of the Department of Finance next week.
What you can do
Whether or not you're into Twilight or you just believe taxing books hinders the flow of knowledge by making books less accessible to people, log on to:
Filipinos Against the Taxation of Books by Customs on Facebook
No to the Philippine Book Blockade
What else can you do? Post your comments below:
To find out what Spot.ph blogger Lourd de Veyra has to say click here.
Artwork by Warren Espejo.
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