Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J., Dean Emeritus of the Ateneo de Manila Law School, seeks to make sense of the book blockade in the Philippine Daily Inquirer today. He characterizes as “very strange” the manner in which the DOF and the Bureau of Customs (BOC) understand Republic Act No. 8047–the very act that Department of Finance (DOF) undersecretary Estela V. Sales invoked to justify the imposition of duties upon imported books. Bernas says that RA 8047 actually “complements the Florence Agreement”, and therefore, it is in this spirit of complementarity that the tax provisions of both RA 8047 and the Florence Agreement should be read.
In view of Sales’s dismissal of novels as “not educational“, Robin Hemley, whose dispatch from Manila sparked the present furor over the taxation of books, has offered to teach Sales and her philistine ilk free of charge:
Next time I’m in Manila, we can start our lessons. The Course will be titled “The Literature of Corruption,” and it will teach novels that deal explicitly or implicitly with an entrenched culture of corruption. Maybe we’ll start with Rizal’s classic NOLI ME TANGERE. I’d also like to include a Graham Greene novel, perhaps THE HEART OF THE MATTER and definitely Aravinda Adiga’s THE WHITE TIGER. That’s just a start. I’m open to suggestions. I might even be able to get her some University of Iowa credit. I think it would be a great course and I’d even extend the offer to Rene Agulan, the Customs official who held up the first shipment of books in January as well as any other Customs officials who might like to learn what exactly is educational about novels.
Should Sales et al. balk at this generous offer–I myself would jump at the chance, but then I don’t claim to be able to “quantify the unquantifiable“, as Jessica Zafra puts it–oxar2001law has proposed an “easy, not too embarrassing way out” for the DOF and the BOC.
Those who want to e-mail Sales may do so via firstname.lastname@example.org. Hemley opines that, “[I]t’s probably best not to ask her questions that can be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”
Hemley also suggests that bookstores should join the protest against the book blockade. My personal suggestion at this point would be to enlist the help of our National Artists for Literature, who of all people certainly appreciate the value of books. What would be the best way to reach them?