[Updated] MLQ3's recent post, and similar entries from other bloggers, especially that of Robert Hemley's Dispatch from Manila (where it began) answered why in the previous months I've seen an intermittent influx of imported books such as Stephenie Meyer's Twilight in local bookstores. My girlfriend herself had to ask a National Bookstore Branch for reservations because her initial attempts to find one proved fruitless. The book, along with (as I've noticed) Umberto Eco's and others, is often running out of stock not primarily because of the huge huge wave of booklovers hurdling for copies, but because of the discouraging financial requisites compounded by delayful red tape that bookshippers have to face in the Bureau of Customs before the titles could find their way to the bookstores.
Suddenly the BoC thought they should be levying 5% taxes on books that according to them aren't "educational, scientific and cultural." Suddenly it occurred to them to review certain rules such as the Customs Code and R. A. 8047 and interpret them in a different way. Suddenly they decided on this when they discovered that the Philippines makes a big market on books, especially when Twilight sales made a big boost among young Filipinos.
Something pretty weird spread in the atmosphere when Usec. Espele Sales explained the case to trouble-ridden booksellers and importers, whose products are stranded on bay and stacked with tariffs they have to pay as days go by. Usec. Sales said R. A. 8047 (otherwise known as the Book Publishing Industry Development Act), which provides of "tax and duty-free importation of books or raw materials to be used on book publishing," means that tax exemptions are put only on books which pertain to book publishing, since according to her there is no comma after the word "book." R. A. 8047 is, in fact, several miles away from the issue. The act concerns availability of materials and references useful for publishers, while the issue at hand is about the finished product and the dilemma of marketing them, which is an isolated stage of the process. Usec. Sales was talking of two different aspects of the industry, and was confusing the importers through twisted language in a manner that was indeed, to agree with Hemley but from a different vantage point, clearly memorable of George Orwell's description of how language is manipulated by governments (read his novel Animal Farm, one of the titles taxed five-fold by the BoC).
The Customs also denied that some literature are "educational, scientific [or] cultural," hence, the duties imposed. Literature, in whatever genré, is reflective of real or artificial, modern or classical culture. Even sci-fi novels are not devoid of culture, and are often educational in nature too. Every book is borne out of the writer's intellectual and external culture, and about their being educational, it takes but a little common sense to see that there is obviously a dredging of imagination, creativity and discovery there.
Another thing which makes this issue anomalous to me is that according to the BoC they are going to be the agency concerned with the classification of books whether to fall taxable or non-taxable. Wake up, what are the credentials of the Customs to determine the nature of books? What is their reasoning for claiming this academic and intellectual responsibility? Does this mean they would also tax Nabokov's Lolita 5% because it is not educational but erotic?
Aside from, in my gentle opinion, being outside the boundaries of common sense, it is also a violation of the Florence Agreement of 1952 (a later Nairobi Protocol, available below, says that custom duties may be imposed by governments, but the Philippines is not a signatory) protecting the free-flow of books to signatory states (the Philippines joined the pact in 1979). It smells of what else but seawater in the most lucrative portion of Philippine government and society - the Customs. Treating books this way just because they bring shiploads of revenue is completely idiotic, literally completely idiotic if we are in a nation aiming to spread literacy. I cannot see why money should get weightier than Grass, Achebe or Garcia-Marquez, whose values are most important to a country such as the Philippines representative of mankind's moral fracture. Even fantasies such as those of Rowling or Meyer or Gaiman do great benefit especially to children, who are reeling towards a dangerous sea watered by the proliferation of pornographic media; books save them from such widespread pollution.
There are times when we have no idea what is running in people's minds, unless we take a look at the object of their affections; that carnal lust for lucre able to bend the mighty steel of the law, and worse gets shielded from the outstretched arm of Justice nowadays groping in the lightlessness of impunity. Just tell lawmakers of its profit, and they will be convinced so as to cooperate for the regulation of our literacy and the exile of common sense.
Nairobi Protocol - Full Text