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May 21

The Long View: The perils of loyal opposition

The Long View
The perils of loyal opposition

By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:18:00 05/21/2009


Every appeal to government for redress of grievances is a loyal appeal, a humble appeal. So far, this has been how most people infuriated by the Department of Finance’s imposition of customs duties on books have approached the issue. But Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr., in a recent conversation, pointed out that bombarding officialdom with petitions would do no good because the amor propio of officials is already at stake.

Although not everyone in officialdom is dismissive of public opinion. And while the UNESCO Philippine Commission still seems to be (spectacularly) AWOL on the issue, there have been officials aplenty who’ve expressed concern and outright opposition to the DOF’s scheme. Foremost among them is the National Book Development Board, whose chairman, Dennis Gonzalez, has forcefully, and eloquently, spoken up against the book tax.

Gang Badoy tells me that Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo has also expressed interest in the case, and I can only assume he is attempting to do something in his quiet and smooth manner.

Locsin himself is banking on his being in good odor with the Palace and assumes President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will favorably consider his loyal appeal for her to restore the status quo ante.

Still, he is enough of a pragmatic politician to recognize that unless the President can be convinced public opinion has been aroused, there will be little incentive for her to reverse the DOF’s mutation – and mutilation – of the law. He believes the issue must sizzle for a few more weeks if there’s to be any hope of presidential action. And the sizzling must take place in the media.

Which means a lot still has to be done.

Columnists have come out swinging and the roll of honor includes the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s own Amando Doronila and Conrado de Quiros, Jullie Daza in the Bulletin, Jarius Bondoc and Jessica Zafra in Philippine Star, Jojo Robles in Manila Standard Today, Libay Linsangan Cantor in Sunday Times, and Elfren Cruz in BusinessWorld. The nation’s leading weekly news magazines, The Philippines Free Press and the Graphic have called attention to the issue. Louie Jon Sanchez, in particular, reported on the efforts of Bicolano novelist Abdon Balde, and educators like Dr. Elizabeth Morales-Nuncio, to spread awareness of the issue.

This newspaper, in an editorial, has come out strongly against book importation duties; but its news side has basically chosen to ignore the issue. Only the Philippine Star has undertaken fairly sustained news coverage, followed by Business Mirror. There has been a smattering of coverage on radio talk shows (radio jock Mojo on 89.9), and a rare report or two on the evening news (24 Oras), but that’s it.

Writers are up in arms; educators are up in arms; librarians are upset, citizens in Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao are outraged. Still, public opinion, so far, has mostly been ventilated on line, which is both a blessing and a bane. A blessing because people have found ways to organize themselves, primarily to express common feelings of indignation; but also a bane in that it’s proving difficult to figure out what to do. Or what can be done.

A good way to achieve a consensus in this regard is to join RockEd’s Sunday activity at the Baywalk along Roxas Boulevard, from 3 p.m. to sundown. Booklovers are asked to bring 3-5 books they’d like to swap or give away, as an act of solidarity with fellow booklovers. Perhaps this will also provide a venue for discussing, and committing to, future courses of action, such as asking for a rally permit on the steps of the DOF.

If the President won’t act, then what? Litigation will be the only path to pursue. Litigation is precisely what DOF is hoping, because it will allow them to continue collecting duties on books while tying things up in court.

A Filipino writer overseas believes that if officialdom’s petty amor propio has committed it to defying public opinion, the public on the other hand, must view failure in this issue as not an option. “Winning this battle is not just a victory for the middle class literati, but has a lot to do with proving that social networking and new media is not toothless when it comes to ‘real world’ movements,” he said.

Neither does the writer seem inclined to support proposals to fight DOF’s illegal behavior by guerrilla book-peddling: “Circumventing rather than battling the customs taxation is only going to perpetuate the practice; I would even say that the problem stems in large part to booksellers willing to capitulate to negotiations [when the real question is] should the booksellers be taxed because they are making money? No, because it is illegal to do so. And for every copy of ‘Twilight’ they sell they also provide the availability of reference material for engineers …”

At the heart of the officialdom’s inflexibility is the dangerous distinction it believes it is entitled to make “between good books and bad books, between books that are useful and books that make money. Making distinctions like that is what eventually leads to book burning.”

A blogger has identified a different path of resistance altogether: for the citizenry to wield the power of the purse by refusing to buy any book that has been subjected to book importation duties. Locsin says booksellers have declined to take the lead on this issue because it would “appear self-serving,” which seems a cop-out. Everyone is in it, together, on this one: and the blogger’s proposal zeroes in on the disinclination of booksellers to join readers for whatever reason (which includes an understandable disinclination to invite retaliatory Customs and BIR “inspections”).

It hasn’t come to that, yet; but it may. So let’s start by seeing each other on Sunday; and please write to your favorite media outlet to demand coverage of this issue.

21 comments

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  1. GabbyD

    “Still, he is enough of a pragmatic politician to recognize that unless the President can be convinced public opinion has been aroused, there will be little incentive for her to reverse the DOF’s mutation—and mutilation—of the law. ”

    is this locsin’s opinion or yours?

  2. mlq3

    his. but i share it, she will only “back off” if there’s political costs/benefits.

  3. J

    i think the broadcast media (and the president) isnt taking notice because, relatively, there are few book lovers in the philippines. the masa couldnt care less about the book tax.

  4. Marvin Aceron

    I suggest we employ a sort of coventry against all officials responsible for this stupidity. Book sellers should selling books to these people, and everyone else should stop lending them books. Manigas sila.

  5. mlq3

    marvin, well, that is, if they like reading? and besides they can get books by diplomatic pouch…

  6. BrianB

    For Malacanang, a testing ground for more illegality come 2010.

  7. ramrod

    Off topic. Noboby seems to want to talk about the “hawt!” item right now re Hayden Kho’s escapades…but the palace seems to think its very important, Bong Revilla, Gonzales, Ermita are up in arms! 🙂

  8. Tamoulz

    Tito Manolo! Hi!

  9. mlq3

    ramrod, walalang tatalo sa maliit na titi na galit! http://ping.fm/hiNja

  10. GabbyD

    in addition to amor propio, senator roxas is intimating that there may be a rent seeking explanation as well: (http://www.senate.gov.ph/press_release/2009/0513_roxas2.asp)

    “Under the new DOF policy regulation, imported books would now have to be examined by the Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education, which would then determine if they are economic, technical, vocational, scientific, philosophical and historical books. Duties would then be determined after such classification… The books being stored in private storage warehouses while undergoing classification, importers and sellers would also have to pay the allegedly high storage fees collected by the private firms.”

  11. Bert

    “But Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr., in a recent conversation, pointed out that bombarding officialdom with petitions would do no good because the amor propio of officials is already at stake.”

    That’s a very sweeping accusation by Locsin, because ‘amor propio’ in the case of government official’s apathy to this popular public clamor to remove book taxations could mean all of the following:

    -government officials are too greedy for tax because, maski barya pinagtitiyagaan nila.
    -government officials are too dumb to know that knowledge and education are good for the people and country.
    -government officials are either too engross with laziness or self-interests they don’t care for anything else.
    -government officials are pig-headed and arrogant.

    I agree with Locsin!

  12. Bert

    ramrod, let’s leave showbiz sex/talk to the politicians, they need the exposure for the coming election. we have more important matters to discuss here.

  13. Tamoulz

    Ah, Manolo… what’s your personal take on the ever-buzzing Hayden Kho fiasco?

  14. mlq3

    tamoulz, that it vindicates machiavelli’s opinion that the appearance of virtue is more important than virtue itself.

  15. Tamoulz

    I truly agree, excuse my early mischief… thanks for your honest take.

  16. ramrod

    Protecting local paper, publishing, and printing industry is one thing but this is ridiculous. A better alternative would be to open up to new technologies, upgrade local capabilities and compete with foreign printers for these imported books. The government is behaving like the proverbial ostrich hiding its head underground…anyhow, I don’t believe revenue from taxing these books are that substantial. They should look into “smuggling”of high value items instead.

  17. d0d0ng

    The only thing common here is money.

    Ladies and gentlemen, the President is not likely to reduce the 12% VAT against popular opinion. Nor, she would reverse DOF’s mutilation of the treaty.

    This is where the application of principle that once given, it is hard to take it back.

    If there is any indication how hard this is, it is the word of the government official saying “go to court” or “let legislature amend the law”.

  18. rego

    question: is “mutation or mutilation” of the law legal? why wait for the president to reverse it? how about going to SC?

  19. Joanna

    Sir,I just came across your website today because I was researching on the tariffs and customs code for imported books.
    You see about 2 weeks ago,I ordered 3 used books in the US thru the internet after failing to find it in all the bookstores in the Philippines.So anyway,it was shipped as parcel via regular mail and I received a note from the post office informing me that my package has already arrived but may be subject to customs fee.To get to the point,the customs officer told me that the books are subject to tax depending on what “bracket” it falls to,meaning the total cost.I did some research and found out that taxes on imported books were scrapped out but he told me that this only applies to books donated.Aside from that he included the amount paid to the US postal service for the shipping in the total amount to be subjected to customs tax.Also,based in his computation,I was supposed to pay 15% of the total cost of the books plus shipping,aside from a couple of other miscellaneous fees.But from what I researched and understood,aren’t you supposed to pay 1% only, and of the price of the goods only at that? Sorry for the long explanation, I don’t have a background in Law and would greatly appreciate any help or explanation on the matter.Thank you.

  20. mlq3

    Joanna, you are not supposed to pay anything at all! The only valid fee is a postal handling fee. They cannot charge you any import duties whatsoever. Not 1%, not 5%, all books, whether you bought them or will resell them or anything, are exempt from all customs duties.

  21. Joanna

    Thank you for your immediate response.Btw,I want to inform you that they have already released the books to me without paying anything aside from the postal handling fee. However,I want some clarification on the matter because I would like pursue it with proper authorities to make them aware. Because I believe that the officer only released my books to me without charge because I came prepared and informed and was thoroughly questioning his every explanation for about an hour. 🙂 I am further pursuing this case because I am alarmed and I pity other citizens who are not as inqusitive or knowledgeable on the topic.
    When I went to the post office this afternoon,I came prepared with printouts of the directive from the Department of Finance website regarding the suspension of DO 17-09 as well as the clipping from http://www.gov.ph wherein it stated that the order came from Pres Macapagal-Arroyo herself.However,the customs officer told me that he didn’t know of the latest directive yet and proceeded to call fellow collectors in Makati and Manila, the latter of whom then told me that only donated books are covered by the directive and I still need to get a letter from UNESCO as well as apply for the exemption in the Tax Exemption Division of the Bureau of Customs.At that point I was so frustrated that I planned to just pay whatever I have to pay so that he would release the books and that I would then forward my complaint with the proper authorities using the official receipt as proof.Then on the computation,he used the total amount of my purchase,including the shipping fee charged by the USPS w/c I already paid thru the internet, converted it to peso based on the exchange rate in a newspaper and then multiplied it w/ 15% w/c is supposedly the imposed tax as well as a couple other additional charges that were not explained.Even though it is already a moot issue in my case, I just want to know the ff: 1)is the shipping fee of the USPS really included in the amount taxable by the Customs?From what I understood in the Tariffs and Customs Law,only goods or articles are subject to duties.Does that include payment for sending the package here? 2)why is the officer charging me 15%? lets just suppose that the DO 17-09 was not suspended, shouldn’t he be imposing a 1-5% tax only? It is sad that we have to question our own civil servants and fellow Filipinos but I would like to be enlightened on the matter because as my friend pointed out, the directive was just suspended not eradicated. Thank you for your time.I hope you weren’t bothered much by my questions.

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