The Long View
Official persecution of readers
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:03:00 08/20/2009
Book lovers expressed satisfaction when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, during her ninth State of the Nation Address, stated her administration’s policy as follows: “Taxes should come from alcohol and tobacco, and not from books. Tax hazards to lungs and livers, do not tax minds.”
Two months before her speech, Makati Rep. Teodoro L. Locsin Jr. had hailed the President for instructing the Department of Finance to rescind Department Order No. 17-09 dated March 24, 2009. DO 17-09 provided the legal basis for the Great Book Blockade of 2009, and officialdom was surprised when the imposition of taxes on imported books provoked opposition from book lovers from all walks of life. Citizens joined hands with booksellers, the National Book Development Board and Unesco Philippines in expressing indignation over an arbitrary and patently illegal tax.
In response to the public furor, the Department of Finance issued Department Order No. 27-09, dated May 25, 2009, saying it had received letters from the NBDB and the Philippine Book Publishing and Development Federation while ignoring Unesco and the citizenry. The officialese used in the new order was pouty: DO 17-09, it said, was “hereby suspended pending resolution of the issues raised.” The phrasing was good-naturedly ignored by many book lovers celebrating what they thought had been a kind of successful People Power; the general, and magnanimous, opinion at the time was that the bureaucrats in the Department of Finance and Bureau of Customs had to save face.
However, between the time the book tax was “scrapped” (according to the Palace) or “suspended” (according to Finance officials), troubling news began to trickle in that the bureaucracy apparently had a mind of its own and fully intended to defy the President and keep on putting the squeeze on the public. And in a manner, mind you, calculated to soothe the bruised amor propio of officials stung by the President weighing in upon the urging of Locsin. If the bookstores, fully supported by Locsin, had scored a victory, the public, meaning individual citizens, would still be at the mercy of the bureaucrats – and they’d get their pound of flesh.
On May 29 one reader of my blog, Dondi Imperial, was assessed customs fees for three books he ordered from abroad. In early June he was told to apply for a customs exemption if he didn’t want to pay the assessed taxes. Things dragged on in the following manner:
“My dad volunteered to go to the DOF to apply for the exemption. The first time he went, they said to come back another day because the person who signs these documents was not there. When he told me of this, I told him that maybe it was better for me to just pay whatever the customs official was charging me but he refused and went back another time. They made him wait for over half a day and on top of that charged him P200 for what the receipt says is ” ‘FF’ (who knows what that is?). He had to photocopy a few documents and asked where the machine was. The person he asked had someone take him to the photocopier and said, ‘Ikaw na bahala sa kanya.’ The photocopier was about 20 feet away.
“In the end with the certificates from the DOF in hand the post office still charged a total of P515: BIR taxes-P15; Proceeds-Auction Sale (the letters IPF are written beside this line)-P250; Miscellaneous (the letters CDS are written beside this line)- P250”
“So P500 + P200 + over a day and a half of my dad’s time + the cost of gasoline for two drives both ways from Paranaque to the DOF.”
Various accounts in various blogs testify that officials are imposing arbitrary rates of illegal taxation, ranging from 30 percent of the retail price of the books to almost 100 percent of the retail price.
Writer Conchitina Cruz contacted the NBDB about the problem and was told by Andrea Pasion-Flores, “According to the NBDB, the individual book buyer must apply for duty exemption at the DOF. You get the exemption the same day you apply for it. You have to apply for an exemption every time you have books coming in.”
But as Dondi Imperial and his father found out, officials will drag their feet and try to strangle you with red tape should you dare to apply for an exemption.
The point, of course, is that no such exemption is even called for. No taxes on imported books are supposed to be assessed. The government supposedly scrapped a policy that was illegal in the first place, and then tried to appear responsive to public opinion. Its too-late-the-hero posturing already gypped many citizens during the time finance and customs levied the illegal book tax; and citizens continue to be gypped by customs assessors in various post offices.
This time around, since the commercial bookstores are still in the clear, it doesn’t look like any official will take up the cudgels for the consumer, whose existence was studiously ignored by the DOF in the first place. So if the book tax is to be truly eliminated, citizens will have to get together with fellow citizens and organize themselves.
How can this be done?
1. Tell RockEd Philippines you want to help by e-mailing [email protected], or contact them via these numbers: (632) 709-0792; (63916) 409-2378; Telefax: (632) 376-2184.
2. Try to take photographs of the customs assessors, post office employees, etc. and document your case and inform [email protected] who has been in touch with UP College of Law dean Marvic Leonen since last May. Leonen has been compiling evidence for the filing of appropriate legal cases.
3. Be prepared to call the attention of Jaime Regala of the BOC IIPD-CIIS (Internal Inquiry and Prosecution Division-Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service) or complain to him personally at tel. 527-4522 once RockEd and Leonen have a clearer idea of the scale of the illegal duties being assessed.