Dear Mr. Koïchiro Matsuura:
I am writing to inform you that the Philippine government has committed a direct and egregious violation of the 1950 Florence Agreement on the Importation of Educational, Scientific and Cultural Materials, to which the Philippines was a signatory.
Through the Bureau of Customs (BOC) of the Department of Finance (DOF), our government has recently imposed duties on imported books. You may refer to DOF Department Order 17-09 for the full details (http://www.customs.gov.ph/dynamic/importation_of_books_FAQ.pdf). I should also add that prior to the issuance of the department order, the BOC has been notorious for collecting trumped-up, arbitrary, or overinflated charges on imported books and other materials. The Department Order, based as it is on a convoluted understanding of the law, merely codifies the corruption of the BOC.
A number of individuals and organizations have raised protests via formal and informal channels. Thankfully, these protests have managed to draw the attention of a handful of officials, but the DOF and the BOC have thus far refused to rescind the duties. Representative of the public position of these two agencies on the issue are statements from BOC deputy commissioner Alexander Arevalo, who has claimed that duties on imported books have been imposed all along (http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=466723&publicationSubCategoryId=63), and from DOF undersecretary Estela V. Sales, who has invoked Republic Act 8047 (http://www.chanrobles.com/republicactno8047.htm) to justify the imposition of duties. Sales has also been quoted as saying that novels are “not educational” (http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=466107&publicationSubCategoryId=63).
Mr. Matsuura, I urge you, in your capacity as Director-General of UNESCO, to call for a swift and thorough investigation into the matter. I further urge you to take our government to task not only for its violation of the Florence Agreement, but also for its brazen disregard of the value of books, regardless of nature or purpose, to the cultural development of the public that it is supposed to serve.
Thank you for your kind attention.
Last 08 May, Mia Dumdum started an online petition entitled, “NO TO THE PHILIPPINE BOOK BLOCKADE“, which as of this writing has 243 signatures. According to the comment that she left on my entry, once 1,000 signatures have been collected, she will forward it along with a letter to Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who has called for an investigation into the book blockade.