Tag Archives: analysis

On the Great Undead Blockade

Ah, my old foe… we meet again. Or do we?

So a commenter over at the Philippine Genre Stories blog has raised the specter (pun not intended) of a necromantic revival of the Great Book Blockade (credit for that particular metaphor goes to the New Worlds Alliance twitter). You can get a summary of these new developments at the aforementioned PGS post, or over at the Philippine Online Chronicles.

While it is clear that once again there are forces once again attempting to keep the precious pulpy goodness from our grubby hands, and this is something we should not stand for, it would be best to know whom it is we’re actually fighting.

The Problem: People are being asked to either pay customs duties on imported books, or get an exemption from the DOF.

We can divide the problem in to two aspects then: (a) The duties; (b) The exemption requirement. In each case what we need to ask is a question every reciting law student dreads to hear: “What is your legal basis?”

[Legal analysis. Oh, what fun!]

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Of Aswangs, Garlic and Cultural Diversity

It’s strange to think that I might have politicians to thank for increasing my knowledge of Philippine mythology, but I’m glad I’m at least learning something from this Con Ass debacle. To explain the context of this post, and the innocuous garlic above, one of our esteemed Senators, Mar Roxas, recently brought garlands of garlic to the Senate as an expression of protest to the actions undertaken by congressmen of the majority party, who managed to ram through a controversial resolution last Tuesday. The senator compared the actions of the congressmen to a form of witchcraft, akin to those practiced by certain types of “aswang” and he brought the leis of garlic as he said these were the best defense against aswang.

This action prompted a column by noted Filipino historian Ambeth Ocampo entitled “Garlic isn’t an ‘aswang’-repellant.” (Do check out the article, as it gives an interesting academic explanation for what an “Aswang” is) Putting aside his issues with the propriety of the Senator’s actions and Mr. Ocampo’s somewhat rosy memory of the “dignity” of Senates past, what makes his column of interest to me and this site is his stance, as expressed in the title of the piece, that Filipinos “never use garlic against the aswang.”

Senator Roxas’ staff who crafted his Con-asswang gimmick are obviously young and urban, they grew up on horror movies. Had they been from Capiz or had they been reared on aswang stories from their “yayas” (nannies) and grandmothers, they would know that the Philippine aswang is not repelled by a crucifix or garlic, which only works for vampires from Transylvania. To kill an aswang you do not drive a stake through its undead heart, rather you drive a sharpened bamboo spear into its back.

Furthermore, Filipinos never use garlic against the aswang. The traditional weapons are ginger and salt. This partly explains why Filipino males like to urinate in the most unlikely places. They are not marking their territory like dogs, but in an earlier time such a practice was meant as an anti-aswang method because urine was believed to contain enough salt to drive the aswang away. In this way holy water can also be used on an aswang, not so much because of the priest’s blessing but due to the salt that is traditionally added to the holy water. Many priests today forget that salt is the essential ingredient in holy water.

I certainly am no historian, and have only recently begun to mine the dense earth of our varied mythologies, but it seems to me that if indeed there is no tradition of garlic being a deterrent to Aswang (defined by Mr. Ocampo, adapting the research of Mr. Maximo Ramos, as “a generic term used to describe one of five creatures in Philippine lower mythology” including witches) then some enterprising soul is going to have to do a lot of correcting of the internets–starting with Wikipedia.

(Click to see larger image; More after the break)

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GBB: Really!?! Edition

I wrote this post last night, then decided to let it sit a bit. Read it again today to make sure I wasn’t being unnecessarily inflammatory and came to the conclusion that I should go ahead and post it (with a bit of an addendum). There are certain depths of emotion that can only be borne through either a judicious application of sarcasm or Ponstan… and I’m all out of Ponstan.

For an irony free take on some pro-tariff arguments/theories, head over to Bibliophile Stalker. We overlap on certain issues but offer different, though non-contradictory, responses.

Unprecedented levels of snark ahead. You have been warned.

The danger in checking MLQ3’s timeline and readings of the Great Book Blockade is that inevitably I stumble across items of news and/or opinion that simply call for a response–or more appropriately, taking a page from the SNL: Weekly Update playbook, a simple question.

Really? Really!?!

First off though, I do realize and recognize that everyone is entitled to their own opinions. I do not intend what follows to impugn the intelligence or virtue of those who hold contrary opinions to myself–it’s just I find some of those opinions expressed to be, well, hilarious–in a black humored Sweeney Todd kind of way.

So in short–I respect you guys, but some of what you’ve said just cannot be allowed to slide. If you agree with the BOC’s actions (spoiler alert: I don’t.) but can’t take some good ol’ fashioned sarcasm, then do yourself a favor and don’t read any further. Consider yourselves duly warned that if you read on beyond this paragraph any bruised egos shall be on your own heads.

OK? Good.

Let’s begin with some answers to the Philippine Star’s recent poll on “What do you think of the BOC’s plan to impose higher taxes on imported books?” I’ll comment on these based purely on the merit I find in the statements, as opposed to the factual legality of the customs duties (note to the Star–it’s not a “plan”: the duties are already in effect ok? That’s why we’re having this conversation) – since I think we’ve sufficiently ventilated that in my prior posts.

  • “If it will result in more taxes for the government, why not?”

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GBB: Dissecting the BOC’s FAQ and DOF Guidelines

Oh good, the Bureau of Customs has released some official documents detailing their stand on the Great Book Blockade issue. Let’s have a look see:

FAQ’s: Clarificatory Guidelines on Duty-Free Importation of Books: (find it here)

The answer to Q1 (A1) states the laws that govern book importation according to the Bureau. No surprises here, those are the self-same laws we’ve been dealing with since the beginning.

A2 acknowledges the existence of the Florence Agreement and the fact that the Philippines is a signatory. Again, no surprises, which is a good thing since that means the assumptions we’ve been making so far have been based on sound facts.

A3 and A4– here is where the fun begins.

Q3: Is the UNESCO Florence Agreement already incorporated in Section 105(s) of the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines (TCCP) as amended?

Yes. Section 105(s) of the TCCP, as amended, already incorporated the UNESCO Agreement. Notably, the law that introduced the present Section 105(s) is Presidential Decree (PD) No. 1464 issued on 11 June 1978, or later than the adoption or even the signing by the President of the Philippines of the UNESCO Florence Agreement in 1950 and 1952 respectively.

Q4: What is the legal implication of such incorporation by Section 105(s) of the TCCP, as amended, of the UNESCO Florence Agreement?

This means that the importation of educational, scientific and cultural materials listed in Annexes A to E of the Florence Agreement shall be subject to the same condition imposed by Section 105(s) of the TCCP, as amended, i.e. that the imported article shall not be for sale, barter or hire.

Oh Customs, Customs… If that is your central argument, your bedrock, your pillar of legality then I could almost kiss you (if you were a person, or at least a moe anthropomorphism) because (unless I have completely forgotten International Law) you have made this so much easier.

For those who did not go through a compulsory 2 units of Public International Law, the argument of Customs can be summarized in this way: [Best done in a Jon-Stewart-impersonates-George-W-Bush-voice] Yes there’s a Florence Agreement, but see what we did was we put the Florence Agreement into our own municipal law–then we added some, well, conditions before the Agreement can apply, and that amended the Agreement. So, we’re cool right?

Not really.

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On the Great Book Blockade of 2009 (Updated 7 May) (with BDAP Paper)

Edit 11 May 2009: The issue has slowly started to attract mainstream media and political attention: check out the posts of the jester-in-exile and the UP Hobbygamers Circle for their aggregation of links culled from throughout the blogosphere.

EDIT (7 May 2009): Lots of updates, including a BDAP position paper.

EDIT (6 May 2009): There were some new developments on this matter over the past day or so. Updates are at the end of the post.

A post on the Philippine Genre Stories blog brought to my attention an article written by Robin Hemley, who is spending a year on a Guggenheim Fellowship in the Philippines. In sum the article, The Great Book Blockade of 2009, alleges that the Bureau of Customs is attempting to impose a duty on imported books in contravention of previous practice and an international treaty: the Agreement on the Importation of Educational, Scientific and Cultural Materials a.k.a. the Florence Agreement. Here’s an excerpt:

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”?

No matter. With this one success under their belt, customs curtailed all air shipments of books entering the country. Weeks went by as booksellers tried to get their books out of storage and started intense negotiations with various government officials.

What doubly frustrated booksellers and importers was that the explanations they received from various officials made no sense. It was clear that, for whatever reason—perhaps the 30-billion-peso ($625 million) shortfall in projected customs revenue—customs would go through the motions of having a reasonable argument while in fact having none at all.

Customs Undersecretary Espele Sales explained the government’s position to a group of frustrated booksellers and importers in an Orwellian PowerPoint presentation, at which she reinterpreted the Florence Agreement as well as Philippine law RA 8047, providing for “the tax and duty-free importation of books or raw materials to be used in book publishing.” For lack of a comma after the word “books,” the undersecretary argued that only books “used in book publishing” (her underlining) were tax-exempt.

“What kind of book is that?” one publisher asked me afterward. “A book used in book publishing.” And she laughed ruefully.

Now, a caveat–the Hemley article is the only source of news I’ve seen with regard to this matter, and as such I’m not sure how accurate the details he provides are (comments in the PGS post above seem to indicate that Undersecretary Estela Sales is mistakenly identified with the Bureau of Customs when she’s actually with the Department of Finance–although the BoC is under the DoF so… *shrugs*). I certainly would love to hear the side of the book importers on the matter for one thing–you’d think they’d be the ones to raise a ruckus themselves.

Still, should the substance of the allegations in the Hemley article be true, this is a cause for concern. However should the proper media attention be raised (Manuel L. Quezon III of the Inquirer has a post on the matter up already. A good start.) and the proper challenge to the basis for the new duties made, I am hopeful that these duties can be overturned. This is as it should be since an analysis of the Florence Agreement and the applicable law seems to show that the imposition any such duties would be illegal.

[Warning: Lengthy post and legal garble follow after the break]

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