Category Archives: Controversies

The spice of life…

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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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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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: 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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