MANILA, Philippines - President Arroyo on Sunday ordered the Department of Finance to scrap the taxes imposed on imported books and reading material.
Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said the directive was prompted by a torrent of criticism on the move of the Bureau of Customs (BOC), which is under the supervision of the finance department, to impose the duties.
“President Arroyo ordered the immediate lifting of the customs duty on book importation,” Remonde said in a text message to The STAR.
“The President wants books to be within reach of the common man. She believes reading as an important value for intellectual formation, which is the foundation of a healthy public opinion necessary for a vibrant democracy,” he said.
Remonde said Mrs. Arroyo directed Finance Secretary Margarito Teves to revoke Finance Department Order 17-09 which imposes duty on book importation.
“Secretary Teves said he will comply immediately,” he said.
Teves earlier said the BoC has yet to compute the revenues to be generated by the taxes.
Teves, however, said that revenue generation was not the main reason for the import duties but to clarify regulations on book imports as provided by the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines.
The UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines (UNACOM), led by secretary-general Ambassador Preciosa Soliven, said the imposition of taxes on books runs contrary to government efforts to promote reading among children and the youth.
“Taxing imported books is tantamount to taxing reading habits. At a time when parents and educators worldwide have expressed alarm on the continuing steep decline in the reading habits and practices especially among the young, the tax measure is counterproductive to current initiatives to rekindle a reading culture,” UNACOM said in a statement.
“The measure would surely further discourage young and even old minds from appreciating, recognizing and rediscovering the value of reading,” UNACOM said.
UNESCO in Paris, France was reportedly already aware of the controversy over the BoC’s imposing duties on imported books, a clear violation of a United Nations world pact forged in 1950 where countries agreed to exempt reading and cultural materials from import duties.
John Donaldson, UNESCO senior legal officer based in Paris, said the Philippines, as a party to the Florence Agreement, must respect the principle “Pacta sunt servanda (Pacts must be respected).”
“This fundamental principle of the law of treaties, enshrined in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties of 1969, provides that treaties in force are binding upon the parties and must be performed in good faith,” Donaldson said.
“It follows that if the Philippines decides to apply custom duties or other charges on the importation of materials coming from another State Party, and for which the Florence Agreement foresees an exemption, it will be in breach of its obligations under this Agreement,” he said.
UNACOM said the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs-Office of Legal Affairs submitted that DO No. 17-09 issued by the Department of Finance was “contrary to the Philippines’ obligations under the UNESCO Florence Agreement and is inconsistent with its principle of free exchange of ideas and knowledge.”