Pinoy book lovers criticize new Customs policy

By Rainier Allan Ronda
MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Customs’ (BOC) revised interpretation of a law that granted tax-free importation of foreign books could soon make international best-selling books scarce in local bookstores and out of the reach of ordinary Filipino book lovers.

The new Customs policy has generated protests from Filipino book lovers who have expressed their concern in personal online blogs and Web forums over possibly higher-priced books and novels.

They have focused on Finance Undersecretary Espele Sales who upheld the BOC position on a provision in Republic Act 8047, or the Book Publishing Industry Development Act of 1995, previously used as basis for tax- or duty-free importation of books.

Sales backed the BOC’s claim that there was no provision in RA 8047 granting tax-free book importation.

The provision stated that there would be “tax- and duty-free importation of books or raw materials to be used in book publishing.”

Sales and the BOC agreed that “only books or raw materials to be used in book publishing” are to be exempt from taxes and duties.

Critics said their interpretation has violated the 1950 Florence Agreement on the Importation of Educational, Scientific and Cultural Materials, of which the Philippines was a signatory in 1952.

The treaty has provided for duty-free importation of books to guarantee the free flow of “educational, scientific, and cultural materials” between countries and declared that imported books should be duty-free.

But Sales reportedly brushed off this argument, saying novels and reading books are “not educational.”

The imposition of duties on foreign books has caused book importers to reconsider future importations due to higher importation costs for the books.

Book industry insiders said the importation of new books has virtually stopped in the last few months.

This, in turn, has caused a scarcity of new book titles at local popular books stores.

The BOC started its new policy when Customs examiner Rene Agulan imposed a duty on an importer who brought in the best-selling “Twilight” novel of Stephanie Meyer, which was recently made into a blockbuster movie.

Unfortunately, the unidentified book importer paid the duty imposed by Agulan, setting a precedent for duties to be imposed on other book shipments.

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