Novels and other reading materials, according to Philippine’s Undersecretary of Finance Espele Sales, are not educational materials.
As a book lover myself and an advocate of not making a fool out of ourselves especially if we are in a position of public trust, there are a number of things that I would want to call this woman.
I don’t know where this government official finished school; from where she came from, they probably relied on oral narratives to transmit the lessons to their pupils, which is not a bad thing in itself. However, it is clear that Espele Sales missed out on a lot of things, especially when it comes to interpreting matters of laws and mandates and international treaties.
I usually have no bone of contention for particular members of the government. My brand of angst against anything related to the government is over the way some politicians run this country. But this particular person, Undersecretary Sales, really succeeded piercing through my indifference.
The Philippine Star ran a frontpage story today (May 10) about the Bureau of Custom’s latest interpretation of RA 8047 or the Book Publishing Industry Development Act, which was ratified in 1995, particularly the line that says:
the tax and duty-free importation of books or raw materials to be used in book publishing.
Espele and her cohorts said that there was nothing in this republic act that disallows the Bureau of Customs from extracting taxes from imported books.
Moreover, they declared in the most government-jargon-laced terms that the Bureau of Customs would not charge taxes for those books or raw materials used in book publishing.
Whatever that means.
Book lovers and people in the book industry reacted that the action of the Bureau of Customs was in direct violation of the United Nation’s 1952 Florence Agreement, of which Philippines is one of the signatories. The Florence Agreement stipulates that the importation of books should be tax-free in order to
facilitate the free flow of educational, scientific, and cultural materials.
However, Sales had a ready argument for the reaction, and stated that the Bureau of Customs has the discretion to choose which books and materials they consider have educational, scientific, and cultural merits.
When people commented that the common interpretation of the Florence Agreement has been around for more than half a century and does it mean that that common interpretation is wrong all along and that the interpretation of the Bureau of Customs and of Undersecretary Sales is right, the undersecretary unashamedly answered with a resounding “Yes!”
Does this woman read at all?!!!
Whatever the goals of the Bureau of Customs for charging taxes from previously duty-free imported books, book sellers and book lovers alike are feeling the crunch. Foreign book importers are unsure of future importation prospects to the country; the higher taxes could mean losses for book companies.
For some months now, the importation of books to the Philippines has come to a standstill; there is a shortage of international bestsellers when one asks for them in major bookstores all over the metro.
I am now on an online hunt for a photo of Usec Sales. I’ll use it to fashion a voodoo doll in her liking.