This is a question posed by quite a few bloggers active in the effort to reverse the policy of imposing import duties on books.
La Nueva Liga Filipina has been the fiercest in insisting that the battle isn’t over yet, and that if political momentum has been generated, it must be sustained:
We now have the initiative. We have the enemy on the run. We must maintain the momentum and not let it go to waste. Guys, we have a good thing going here.
Entonces, I now recommend that we push on and now demand the resignations of Undesecretary Sales and Customs examiner Rene Agulan for embarrassing our country before the international community.
village idiot savant has a similar point of view:
Even its resolution calls for some pause. It looks and feels like Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has struck a blow for book-lovers everywhere. Remember: it was her Secretary of Finance that imposed the tax in the first place, and being a cabinet position, it was, effectively, an extension of her office. If she caved, it was because it was an opportunity to look good, not to acknowledge the DoF’s and the BoC’s violation of the Florence Agreement. It cannot be properly called a victory without censure of these offices’ flawed interpretation of the law.
Both also say that it isn’t enough to identify problems, but that work needs to be done to propose solutions. He is not alone in pointing this out. 1ReAd2 says there remains the problem of public libraries:
There is still a need to develop other avenues by which everyone can avail of the book and one of this is develop our public library system. Promote and develop them.
Not everyone can afford to buy a book. Not everyone has a credit line to buy a book. This is where or this where a library, public or otherwise can fill the gap.
Or that returning to the status quo ante is not particularly something to cheer about, as My World describes it, lifting book duties will have an effect on prices that are still high:
A “really good (imported) book” in the Philippines, hard bound, excellent paper quality written by a noted author can command a price of upwards 2000 pesos. The paperback edition of such book with nice paper quality sells at around Php1500 to Php2000. A “good book” (one in which the author is not that popular) with a nice paper quality typically sells around Php1000 – 1500. Between Php800 – Php1000 are the “downsized” version of a typically good book or the so – called mass paperback copies. Below Php500 are books whose printed pages are of newsprint quality. By comparison, in China, a paperback edition book with nice paper quality costs around Php300 – 400 (converted already) tops. As a matter of fact, last December, during my vacation in China, I’ve bought 7 books for 341 RMB or roughly Php2500 total. Imagine 7 books for the price of 2 or maybe even 1 bought in the Philippines (the books I’ve bought in China are scholarly works on Chinese History). Now that is expensive. It is due to this high price of books that book buying and collecting is fast becoming an expensive “hobby” of the “well-to-do”. A “financially struggling” individual can’t “afford” to read and collect books even if he loves books. It is for this reason that an imposition of a few percentage points of custom duties on the cost of books would only make books more expensive and the matter worse. However, it won’t be that bad if we have a “functioning” public library system instead of a pathetic one that we have now.
School Librarian in Action noticed the lack of engagement by librarians, as organized professionals, in the issue, but takes a positive attitude:
I’d like to think that most Filipino librarians are battling their own professional issues and problems that to make a noise on the TGBB is just too much to do for now. I would like to think that somewhere out there, Filipino Librarians are quietly transforming their libraries into places where the public can freely access information from printed and online media.
Philippine Commentary would be somewhat pleased with the above, because in his view, the call of the times is to hasten the demise of the book and to encourage, instead, the consumption of books as digital files.
Indeed it seems to me that the healthy thing about online advocacy is that it helps cure -or remedies- a basic weakness of public causes and those involved in them, which is, the disinclination of many participants to take stock of what took place, so that lessons, hopefully, can be identified, learned, and institutionalized.
There seems to be a lot of angst in that the supposedly successful resolution of the whole campaign has revealed it to be a primarily Middle Class cause. As Cocoy put it in Filipino Voices:
Victory is sweet. Who would have thought we could change Government’s mind?
The sad part of it, as much of our people care more about Kho’s, Belo’s and Halili’s sex life. We won this victory without 95% of our people understanding why it was fought in the first place and why this is important. We fought this battle largely without network television and hardly any support from the daily newspapers. Heck, I don’t think they know it was fought at all.
The frightening and dangerous thought is that if this was won largely without popular support, in the next engagement, should we bother getting them onboard? That to build this nation, do we still need them? Are they immaterial to the larger war? Dangerous question, correct?
People saw the book blockade, this war on book taxes and duties as a war of the elite. How many people who joined this crusade who are actually multimillionaires but instead are ordinary people, living ordinary lives who love books?
Now there were those who were ambivalent about the issue from the very start, because of its bourgeois characteristics or, to be more accurate about it, at first blush (it seemed to me, anyway) because of their disdain for anything smacking of the bourgeoisie. This was clearly expressed in stuart-santiago and by caffeine_sparks in Filipino Voices (though she clarifies, in response to this entry, that she most definitely does not have an automatic disdain for things bourgeois), but the answer may be in another portion of the same entry by sparks:
“Did you see who carted away the books first?” I murmured a negative, having come a bit late. He motioned his head to the inhabitants of the Manila Bay area, skin darkened from sleeping underneath the naked sky. To be clear I said, “You mean the Great Unwashed carted most of the books away?” In a conspiratorial way only journalists would ever be able to manage, he murmured an affirmative. “You see, we the so-called enlightened ones like to assume the hoi polloi would never care for books. But right there, before my eyes, was proof that isn’t true.” Indeed. The printed word is a luxury for many. In our little enclaves we tend to forget the great privilege of being able to make sense of letters strung together. What jewels they must be for those whose precious monies must be spent on not starving.
Now this may or may not suggest by even the Divided Left had both its main branches speaking out against the book duties, but was it out of genuine concern for issue, or a desire to pander to the Middle Class, a manifestation of United Front politics? Nonetheless, Stuart-Santiago’s, caffeine_sparks’ point of view was also echoed by The Zeppelin’s Mezzanine:
But I just can’t help but wonder. If the power of the Internet-driven Pinoy community was that great, it’s a wonder people haven’t tried to levy for a decrease in gasoline prices via Facebook. Or they hadn’t called for the exposition of First Gentleman Mike Arroyo by Twitter. Heck, it’s actually a wonder that there aren’t any online petitions calling to end Jejomar Binay’s plans to run in the 2010 elections.
See what I’m talking about? The curious variable in this whole mess was that the only reason these guys went to the streets – er, what’s the Internet equivalent? — was because it involved something they held to be important. This only serves to point out the old adage of infernal dynamics: The energy required to move an object in the correct direction, or put it in the right place, will be more than you wish to expend but not so much as to make the task impossible.
Meaning people will only move when they think the cause is worth their while. But as to what my own demographic considers important, well. You could say that that’s a whole new ball game.
Personally, I believe our civic sense to have become so thoroughly enfeebled, that any small victory -and the victory, perhaps small though it may be and possibly even temporary, becomes a large one, if only because there have been so few instances where domestic public opinion actually led to official action and someone in officialdom relenting- is worthy of celebration in and of itself.
Also, surely it’s also worth considering the perspective that Middle Class empowerment is a good thing, and a necessary thing, if politics is to be about the national community and not just a winner-take-all battle between its constituent parts. If there is to be pluralism and not just triumphalism on the part of segments of the population, then the entire apparatus has to be seen as responsive to a Middle Class that has been so enfeebled, politically, as to have boycotted the country by voting with its feet and pursued permanent emigration abroad.
Now on to something else that Cocoy thinks, which is that,
This battle was won largely because the diverse group used cyberspace to get our message across. We were heard in the halls of the US Embassy. We were heard in twitter and facebook. We were heard in the UN. And those entities helped put in pressure on our government who would normally wait for the storm to pass.
The Internet isn’t just a delivery mechanism for sex scandals. It is a delivery mechanism to help change the world.
Perhaps a bit premature, methinks, and a tad colonial-minded in that “we were heard in the halls of the US Embassy” seems to be perceived as an achievement in itself. We do not know, and there seems no reason to think, the US Embassy lifted a finger in terms of this issue; although it is remarkable that the Americans -or, to be precise, an American in the embassy staff- told David Hemley that the issue made them reconsider their previous low opinion of the effectiveness of the Internet when it comes to mobilizing people.
I do believe that the the Internet made possible the story’s emergence in the first place. David Hemley -an American, one less inclined to take official impositions sitting down, which is what Filipino book importers were inclined to do- wrote about it online.
His story was tremendously easy to reproduce, because of that; and a constituency was revealed because of that story. More remarkably still, the story was enriched because of the initiative of blogs like Philippine Genre Stories that didn’t just take Hemley’s word at face value, but dug around deeper. The online buzz forced at least a token nod in the direction of all the online agitation going on, on the part of mainstream media, though I personally suspect mainstream media viewed the issue with ambivalence because it tends to view most things through the same Class Struggle lenses that made some bloggers ambivalent about the issue, too.
Anyway, if the story would not have otherwise emerged, if not for the internet; if the story wouldn’t have spread, without the internet; if the internet made possible people not only expressing personal indignation, but discovering they didn’t exist in impotent isolation, but actually formed a constituency, then the view of Cocoy is valid.
But I’d like to point out one shortcoming, and that’s of official perception and even, of what gets officials to act. In a sense, even as online media and organizing proved its clout with this issue, it also demonstrated the residual power of the traditional print media: if only because the ferocity of print commentary kept the issue from being totally shrugged off by both print reporters and radio and TV media.
I must say though, that I’m on shaky ground on this one, as I might simply be seeing this through the self-satisfied eyes of a print opinion writer. Though I was told that it was the direct challenges to UNACOM that prodded it into hastening the release of its statement, which the Department of Finance never wanted released at all.
There are officials, though, who are surely of the impression that the whole issue had nothing to do with the internet, or put another way, that the internet was irrelevant in the resolution of the issue. What resolved it was media noise, which gave one faction within the President’s official family, the nerve to challenge another; but that in the end it was a matter of getting the President’s ear, and her stepping in to stop the official squabbling.
But be that as it may, perhaps the celebrations and soul-searching are premature. See Gov’t urged to totally scrap tariffs on imported books in BusinessWorld. As The Grin Without A Cat says, vigilance!
Teodoro M. Kalaw