Tag Archives: Great Book Blockade

Duties on Books: Who You Gonna Call?

Why isnt Winston here though? -_-

Why isn't Winston here though? -_-

As posted over at Philippine Genre Stories and via comment from Bookmarked! here’s a number concerned book lovers can call if their precious books are being unjustly detained:

Hi, you should not have to file for exemption for items that are non-taxable. From my understanding, exemption is only filed if you or your organization is tax-exempt.

Please call Mr. Jaime Regala of the BOC IIPD-CIIS
(Internal Inquiry and Prosecution Division-Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service)
(632) 5274522

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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Books. Matter. Stories. Matter. (Or: How a Book Made Me Cry After Six Pages)

Damn. Six pages in.

I don’t usually blog about personal matters but…

Books have brought me to tears before. I’m kind of a sap that way. Usually though this happens at the end of a novel, when I’ve become so attached to the characters that when the time comes for something, or someone, to be sacrificed in order to lend the heroes’ eventual triumph the proper degree of drama and pathos; or, rarely, in very personal non-fiction accounts such as Didion’s “A Year of Magical Thinking” where the language is so beautiful and the event (the death of a loved one) so close to our own hearts that sympathetic heart-wrenches are unavoidable.

But while reading a factual report of an event? Never happened before. And I’ve certainly never teared up six pages in to a book.

This is the culprit: Every Book Its Reader by Nicholas A. Basbanes. The subtitle is, fittingly enough “The Power of the Printed Word to Stir the World.” By all means click the image to peruse the first few pages of the book… Amazon’s preview covers the entirety of the section which had me sniffling, since it didn’t take that friggin’ long. (Go on, I’ll be here when you get back. Still sniffling probably.)

[All done? Join me after the cut.]

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GBB Aftermath: Receipts, Evidence and Testimony Wanted

Sure, the Great Book Blockade is over, but the price of peace (or duty-free books in this case) is eternal vigilance–let’s not forget that even before the GBB, there were already people being taxed when they sought to bring books from abroad into the country. If you’ll recall, Chingbee Cruz shared her own experience here:

I’d heard that books were tax-exempt but didn’t know enough to have any conviction in making that argument, and so all I really wanted to do then was pay the right amount, official receipt and all. As I was fishing my hard-earned thousands of pesos out my wallet, I told CD that he made it very hard for people like me not to be corrupt. That his dramatic tossing of documents and convoluted explanations to my questions made it clear that he was discouraging me from doing the right thing. (When I asked him to please explain why his clerks were handing out tiny pieces of paper with the wrong tax amount for cheaper, resibo-less claiming of packages, he said he wasn’t at liberty to talk about such things. WTF?) Of course, he had nothing to say to all this. The only time he had something to say was when I mentioned that maybe next time I should keep my purchases to fifty dollars or less so I wouldn’t be charged taxes. “Ikaw bahala,” he said. “Kung may paraan ba lumusot sa rules, e, di ba’t di gamitin?” To which I quickly pointed out, short of biting his head off, that no, I wouldn’t be breaking any rule to begin with if I did my theoretical fifty-dollars-or-below purchase, and so no, I wouldn’t be getting away with anything.

UP Law Dean Marvic Leonen had a similar experience (as Chingbee narrates here) and RockEd Philippines has been trying to gather proof of similar cases of illegal taxation–receipts, or even simple narrations of the events–so that Atty. Leonen or another able lawyer might be able to file the appropriate legal suit. However, over at Twitter, in response to a query from @MLQ3, @gangbadoy of RockEd told me that people have stopped emailing such receipts and stories since the GBB was lifted.

[More after the cut]

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GBB: And the Winner Is…

All of you. The Book Blockade is done. Here’s the report in the Philippine Star via Bibliophile Stalker (who first heard it from Robin Hemley’s Twitter):

Taxes on book imports lifted
By Paolo Romero Updated May 25, 2009 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines – President Arroyo ordered yesterday the Department of Finance to scrap the taxes imposed on imported books and reading material.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said the directive was prompted by a torrent of criticism on the move of the Bureau of Customs (BOC), which is under the supervision of the finance department, to impose the duties.

“President Arroyo ordered the immediate lifting of the customs duty on book importation,” Remonde said in a text message to The STAR.

“The President wants books to be within reach of the common man. She believes reading as an important value for intellectual formation, which is the foundation of a healthy public opinion necessary for a vibrant democracy,” he said.

Remonde said Mrs. Arroyo directed Finance Secretary Margarito Teves to revoke Finance Department Order 17-09 which imposes duty on book importation.

“Secretary Teves said he will comply immediately,” he said.

Teves earlier said the BoC has yet to compute the revenues to be generated by the taxes.

Teves, however, said that revenue generation was not the main reason for the import duties but to clarify regulations on book imports as provided by the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines.

The UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines (UNACOM), led by secretary-general Ambassador Preciosa Soliven, said the imposition of taxes on books runs contrary to government efforts to promote reading among children and the youth.

“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,” UNACOM said in a statement.

“The measure would surely further discourage young and even old minds from appreciating, recognizing and rediscovering the value of reading,” UNACOM said.

UNESCO in Paris, France was reportedly already aware of the controversy over the BoC’s imposing duties on imported books, a clear violation of a United Nations world pact forged in 1950 where countries agreed to exempt reading and cultural materials from import duties.

John Donaldson, UNESCO senior legal officer based in Paris, said the Philippines, as a party to the Florence Agreement, must respect the principle “Pacta sunt servanda (Pacts must be respected).”

“This fundamental principle of the law of treaties, enshrined in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties of 1969, provides that treaties in force are binding upon the parties and must be performed in good faith,” Donaldson said.

“It follows that if the Philippines decides to apply custom duties or other charges on the importation of materials coming from another State Party, and for which the Florence Agreement foresees an exemption, it will be in breach of its obligations under this Agreement,” he said.

UNACOM said the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs-Office of Legal Affairs submitted that DO No. 17-09 issued by the Department of Finance was “contrary to the Philippines’ obligations under the UNESCO Florence Agreement and is inconsistent with its principle of free exchange of ideas and knowledge.”

Congratulations everyone. Well done! Now, when’s the party? ^_^

GBB: Book Bigayan 2009

Book Bigayan 2009 was a rousing success.

It took us a while to find the venue–I thought that I would be able to see Malate Church from Roxas itself–but upon arrival I couldn’t help but note how appropriate the meeting point was. Everyone clustered around a sculpture of a bespectacled man sitting on a bench and holding a newspaper as he gazes across the sea (waiting for the books to come in perhaps?)

Our taciturn host turned out to be Mr. Arsenio H. Lacson,  journalist, lawyer, guerilla, and Mayor of Manila, who survived three attempts on his life, twice disarming the unlucky attackers.

Luckily, the weather was very cooperative:

Nothing but blue skies, shining on me…

Things worked out in the end as we ended up arriving at the venue just before Gang of Rock Ed showed up and started the ball rolling.It was interesting seeing Gang in person–even if you didn’t know what she looked like, if you’ve ever heard her over the radio her voice was unmistakable. She also exuded an easy camaraderie with the crowd, most of whom (like myself) she’d probably never met before.

I hope she was able to charm the on-scene reporter as well. There was a young woman with a recorder and a cameraman on-hand, I assume based on the nearby truck that they belonged to the GMA-7 news crew.

I overheard Gang giving the reporter an overview of the Book Blockade situation (I wonder if the reporter had known of the whys-and-wherefores of the event beforehand or had just been tipped off regarding a strange gathering of bibliophiles along Manila Bay). The reporter also talked to the members of a family who had been the beneficiaries of some of the donated books, and I smiled when I saw the children show the reporter the books they’d chosen from the piles. They seemed happy with their hauls.

[More after the cut]

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Book Bigayan: My Donations

Don’t forget everyone, if you want to express your dissatisfaction with the Book Blockade in a positive fashion, Rock Ed Philippines’ Book Bigayan 2009 is all set for tomorrow at 3 p.m. I’ll try to be at the Baywalk when it begins, though I don’t think I’ll be able to stay that long (not that you guys would recognize me :P).

I’ve set aside the books I’m planning to donate, so if any of these tomes strikes your fancy, be there tomorrow at around 3pm. ^_^ What are the rest of you bringing?

From left to right, then the ones on top, linked to Amazon for your convenience:

Read on for those people who need a refresher on the details of the event:

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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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