Everybody probably still remembers the Great Book Blockade of 2009, where our Bureau of Customs (BoC) and the Department of Finance (DoF) tried to block books from being sold and distributed here in the country unless a tax was paid on them. This, of course, flew in the face of The Florence Agreement, which calls for “the free flow of ‘educational, scientific, and cultural materials’ between countries and declaring that imported books should be duty-free.”
I wrote an article about it for the newspaper that I work for and actually got to talk to Undersecretary Espele Sales of the DoF — and boy was she shady. She refused to be recorded during the interview, and insisted that I eat the lunch that they prepared even after I declined several times over. During the whole lunch she kept on making these “We’re friends now” overtures that I couldn’t help but feel like I was in a mafia movie and becoming slowly indebted to its most corrupt Don.
While a lot of people thought that it was over when UNESCO itself called out the DoF and the BoC on its bullshit and then President Arroyo ordered the scrapping of taxes on imported books, a lot of people on-the-ground say that the situation is anything but changed.
My friend Blooey notes in her blog that as far back as December of the same year that the Book Blockade supposedly ended, the BoC was once again arbitrarily levying taxes on books being imported into the country. (Do check out the other links in that particular post as it provides a neat timeline of the Great Book Blockade of 2009.)
And now we have this: Customs tightens rules on entry of imported books.
“‘Applicants for importations under the Florence Agreement must first secure a certification from the UNESCO Office in the Philippines attesting that the importations of educational, scientific and cultural materials are among those included Florence Agreement,’ Alvarez said.”
There’s also this:
“‘Applications for the duty-free importation of books by non-stock, non-profit educational institutions must be accompanied by a certification from the Department of Education (DepEd) or the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) attesting that the importations are economic, technical, vocational, scientific, philosophical or historical books,’ the new guidelines also said.”
The new rules still recognizes The Florence Agreement, so it’s not an outright strangling of book imports like the one that happened in 2009. However, making the importation of books harder for everyone is always a troubling thing. Why are books always the favorite target? Why not tighten rules on tobacco and liquor instead, which quite frankly are only educational and cultural in the sense that cigarettes teach you about lung cancer and alcohol makes “cultural exchange” easier?
And let’s not forget this little gem from De La Salle University College of Law dean Jose Manuel Diokno when we interviewed him recently:
“There are many indicators of corruption in any office. For example, kapag maraming red tape ang isang opisina (when there’s too much red tape in an office), there will be enough opportunity for corruption. If there is too long a delay in the processing of any kind of application, malamang meron din ‘yung corruption (there is probably corruption there).”
In case it’s not clear enough, what I’m saying is are these “tighter” rules in place just to cover up corruption? Just saying.