“Taxing Our Future”

Click here to read the full official statement by the UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines opposing the imposition of duties on imported books. As of this time, portions of the statement have appeared in BusinessWorld Online and GMANews.TV.

[via Manuel L. Quezon III]

UNESCO speaks out against book tax

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) National Commission of the Philippines (finally!) released a statement last Friday opposing the imposition of duties on imported books:

“The UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines believes that tax on imported books will undoubtedly limit access to information and knowledge and curtail the free flow of information. This imposition will also slow down if not obviate our country’s efforts to become a knowledge society.

“The tax scheme has an inherent anti-poor bias as it is the marginalized sectors that will be most adversely affected by more expensive publications. Taxes on imported books and other publications will definitely widen the ‘knowledge divide’ between the rich and poor sectors of society.

“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.”

Additional statements of interest follow below.

  • The Philippine Star, 21 May 2009 Editorial: “Many youths who enjoy light reading such as the Harry Potter series and the Twilight vampire chronicles eventually go on to heavier subjects including non-fiction and classic literature. Book enjoyment is carried on into adulthood. Does education stop after college graduation?”
  • Alex Maximo: “Administrators should let this sink in – these books are making our students read again. Deprive them of that motivation and surely, we’ll find ourselves more illiterate as a society. Then again, that’s always been the plan. Dumb society down so that no one will be able to shake the status quo.”
  • Dr. Elizabeth Morales-Nuncio [via Louie Jon Sanchez]: “This will totally kill reading culture. [W]e’re just discouraging people to read.”
  • Senator Francis Escudero: “This […] tax may very well be equivalent to book burning as it will result in people reading less books because they can no longer afford to buy them.”
  • Jullie Daza: “What do we do with books if they are not for sale, barter or hire? Do we eat them? Recycle them into building materials? Burn them? […] Ms. Sales is a danger to society…”
  • Alex Magno: “Where we stand today, literacy is already an imperiled skill. The Philistines who want to tax books aggravate the danger facing our civility.”
  • Amando Doronila: “Any moment authorities pass judgment on books, the stage for mind control, inquisition and physical torture is set. More than that, censors become the vanguard of a new age of ignorance.”
  • Conardo de Quiros: “In this magic-realist country, all that will probably happen is that Customs will justify the exaction on books as being necessary to give Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo the wherewithal to launch a reading program.”

A battle plan against the book blockade

Excerpted from “How to Break a Book Blockade” by Norman Sison of La Nueva Liga Filipina:

So, if someone were to ask me how I’d wage the Great Book Siege of 2009, this is how I’d do it:

  • War is about numbers. Keep forming the Facebook protest group. This will provide a public opinion base. Note: not everyone who signs up will be active. But what’s important is to build a network to help spread the word faster. Use email and text message signatures to direct people to the Facebook page. Use Chikka.com to text as many people as you want for free.
  • Form a core organization. Right now, the protest is more of a movement. But a core organization is needed to keep things in focus, consistent and organized. The idea is to maintain momentum. It’s also important for people to actually meet to give causes human faces. Maybe an occasional rallying speech on YouTube might do the trick.
  • Draft a plan of action to maintain focus and momentum. Winning a war is also about effective management. There must be clear objectives and steps detailing how these are to be achieved. Objectives keep all efforts consistent, thereby maximizing their intended effect while minimizing wasted time and effort.
  • Get bigger guns. Seek support from NGOs, schools, foundations that are into education. Enlist the backing of National Bookstore, Fully Booked and other bookstores. Ask them to provide assistance, logistical, financial, whatever that helps.
  • Keep up the barrage. Keeping sending messages of concern by email, mail, fax, phone, petition, homing pigeons and whatever else you can lay your hands on to government officials and agencies, lawmakers, lawyers’ groups and other people who can make things move. Ask supporters to send email and text messages to 10 people they know. Just imagine the multiplier effect that would do. And, most importantly, don’t let up until it’s over. Don’t think that delivering your message to 10 people just once is enough. Remember, the idea here is to achieve fire superiority and not give the opposition any breathing space.
  • Keep blogging, emailing and texting. The government is underestimating the power of social technologies, thinking that this issue will die down. They’re making a mistake. Let’s not interrupt them. Don’t forget: all this started thanks to one online musing from Robin Hemley.
  • Open a new front. Take the battle outside of cyberspace. Use shirts, buttons, home-made stickers, posters, text messages, email protest ads, flyers, small flags to broadcast our message. The idea is to create the image of mass outrage. One particular idea that I have is to mail, fax or email custom-made “No to taxes on books!” postcards to the DOF. Why stage a rally and brandish placards outside when you can fire “mini placards” right straight into the office by fax and snail mail?
  • Create critical mass. Go to the extreme and ask the bookstores to stop importing books. Period. They should put up signs saying that “We have stopped importing books in protest of the new taxes being imposed by the government, which is in violation of the Florence Agreement. We apologize for the inconvenience and appeal for your understanding.” Then let’s see what happens when the books start disappearing.
  • Get the media behind us to cultivate critical mass opinion. Send press and photo releases to editors. Ask to be interviewed. Hold a publicity stunt, such as a motorcade or fundraisers or book drives. The idea is to get on the news as often as possible. Get this issue to CNN, BBC and other international media organizations.
  • Divide and conquer. The Finance Department has usurped the jobs of the Education and Foreign Affairs Departments. Petition the DepEd and the DFA to put the DOF in its place. Don’t forget the National Book Development Board.
  • Take the direct approach. Contact UNESCO, the World Trade Organization and embassies of Florence Agreement signatory countries. The book taxes are treaty and free trade violations.
  • Go to court. Question the DOF order that imposed the taxes. Get lawyers for this. The Alternative Law Group or Free Legal Assistance Group perhaps. The bookstores could pool their resources and file a lawsuit. Or we file a taxpayers lawsuit.
  • Submit a citizens’ bill amending the tax code. The DOF claims it’s in the law, then we change the law. Get congressmen up for reelection in 2010 and those who love to grandstand as backers. This is using the political system and human psychology for you.
  • Threaten election reprisal. We directly campaign against the administration party and their allies in the 2010 elections if they refuse to heed our demand. As in we form a blacklist of candidates for targeting.
  • Think like the enemy to anticipate their moves. Remember, we are living in the land of political killings and desaparecidos. We don’t know if they’ll resort to harassment, intimidation and outright threats. We’ll probably need to take security measures. Good if I’m wrong and I’m being too paranoid. But if I’m right, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
  • Believe that we can make it. An army’s worst enemy is defeatism. Remember this quote from Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can or think that you can’t, either way you are right.”

Seven Days of Action Against the Book Tax

From Manuel L. Quezon III (Originally posted in his Twitter account):

Day 1: Text/fax/postcard executive officials, supporting appeal of Rep. Locsin to the President to rescind book tax, and supporting, too, the NBDB resolution opposing the tax. You can try to leave an online message for the President of the Philippines.

Or:

EDUARDO R. ERMITA

Executive Secretary

Tel.# 735-5334
Fax# 7361076
Email address: erermita@op.gov.ph

ALBERTO G. ROMULO
Secretary of Foreign Affairs
Tel.# 551-0357 / 834-4016
Fax # 551-0287 / 8321597
Website: http://www.dfa.gov.ph
Email: osec@dfa.gov.ph

MARGARITO B. TEVES
Secretary of Finance
Tel.# 523-4255 / 523-6051
Fax # 521-9495
Website: http://www.dof.gov.ph

RAUL M. GONZALES
Secretary of Justice

Email: ssad@doj.gov.ph
Website: www.doj.gov.ph

You can try to send an SMS to:

Atty. Erlinda de Leon, Special Assistant to the President of the Philippines

09189624563

Joaquin Lagonera, Senior Deputy Executive Secretary

09176130434

Day 2: Write a letter to the editor of a daily newspaper expressing your concern about the book tax. Demand coverage of the issue.

Day 3: Phone/fax/text a TV network about your concern about the book tax.

Day 4: E-mail or leave a message for UNESCO condemning the book tax (as proposed by Norman Sison to Robin Hemley). [I sent my own letter earlier today.]

Day 5: Two For One Day: Recruit a Filipino friend to the Cause, and inform a foreign friend about what’s going on so they’ll raise the issue with their government. Sign the online petition too. [According to Mia Dumdum, who started the petition, once 1,000 signatures have been collected, she will forward it along with a letter to Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago.]

Day 6: Rule of Law Day: Sign on to a lawsuit if the President won’t listen to the appeal to rescind the book tax.

Day 7: Participate in Rock Ed’s Book Giveaway Activity, Baywalk, 3-6 pm May 24.

A letter to Koïchiro Matsuura, UNESCO Director-General

Per the suggestion of Norman Sison, via Robin Hemley, I sent the following letter through the UNESCO General Contact Form:

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.