I’m guessing that most book-lovers in the Philippines are already aware of (and mad about) this issue. Robin Hemley, the director of the Non-Fiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa who is in the Philippines for a one-year Guggenheim Fellowship, brought the issue to light. Excerpts from his dispatch:
Over coffee one afternoon, a book-industry professional (whom I can’t identify) told me that for the past two months virtually no imported books had entered the country, in part because of the success of one book,Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. The book, an international best seller, had apparently attracted the attention of customs officials. When an examiner named Rene Agulan opened a shipment of books, he demanded that duty be paid on it.
The importer of Twilight made a mistake and paid the duty requested. A mistake because such duty flies in the face of the Florence Agreement, a U.N. treaty that was signed by the Philippines in 1952, guaranteeing the free flow of “educational, scientific, and cultural materials” between countries and declaring that imported books should be duty-free. Mr. Agulan told the importer that because the books were not educational (i.e., textbooks) they were subject to duty. Perhaps they aren’t educational, I might have argued, but aren’t they “cultural”?
Another example of government ineptitude. Perfect timing, too – just when Customs is pressured to increased their revenue. Why didn’t they think of reviewing and coming up with the “correct interpretation” of the Florence Agreement at the height of the Harry Potter fever? Let’s see what will happen and how the book sellers will respond. Will they raise prices or lessen inventory? Either way, it’s not good. Twilight, for all its faults, has at least led young people to read books again. Even if only a small percentage of them go on to read other books, it would still be great thing.
Books are already quite expensive as they are right now, though still cheaper here in the Philippines when you convert and compare it to the cover price in US dollars. But when books become more expensive because of the new tax, then fewer people will buy books. Hmm, perfect plan to dumb down the citizens so we don’t get exposed to all sorts of ideas that would lead us to see all the faults of and question our government.
It’s not really the tax that’s bothering me. It’s the opportunism, the violation of a treaty and a law, and the equal measure of ignorance and arrogance being displayed by the concerned government officials. Taxes are fine, provided they are imposed for the right reasons and most importantly, that citizens reap the benefits. Ha, another utopian dream.
Let’s all just continue to make noise about this issue until this nonsense is scrapped.
Update: May 12, 2009
Manolo Quezon has a detailed and well-research blog entry on the issue. It includes a timeline dating back to 1945, plus references.
Our concerns are continuing to gain ground, so let’s not simply let this issue go.