May 11, 2009
MIRIAM WANTS 'BOOK BLOCKADE' INVESTIGATED
Known booklover and author Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago today urged the Senate to investigate the alleged "book blockade" being reported in various newspapers and blogs.
Booklovers are up in arms over the book blockade, which is reportedly caused by the imposition by the Bureau of Customs (BOC) of customs duties on imported books.
According to the BOC, Republic Act No. 8047, or the Book Publishing Industry Development Act, only exempts from import taxes and duties "books or raw materials to be used in book publishing."
The imposition of customs duties on imported books has reportedly caused book importers to reconsider future importations due to higher importation costs. Foreign books have become more expensive, and are in danger of becoming scarce or completely unavailable in local bookstores.
Santiago, chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, said the BOC interpretation of RA 8047 violate the 1950 Florence Agreement on the Importation of Educational, Scientific and Cultural Materials, of which the Philippines is a state party.
"The Florence Agreement provides that the contracting States undertake not to apply customs duties or other charges on, or in connection with, the importation of books, publications, and documents," Santiago said. "The Philippines is bound by this treaty under the principle of pacta sund servanda. This simply means that every treaty in force is binding upon the parties to it and must be performed by them in good faith."
Santiago said the government cannot use RA 8047 to evade its obligations under the treaty.
"The Philippines, as a party to the treaty, is not authorized to invoke the provisions of its internal law as justification for its failure to perform the treaty," she said.
"Moreover, RA 8047 itself provides that the Philippines' national book policy is to reaffirm and ensure the country's commitment to the UNESCO principle of free flow of information and other related provisions as embodied in the Florence Agreement and in other similar international agreements," the senator said.
Santiago also said that the BOC's interpretation of RA 8047 is erroneous because the exemption from import taxes and duties applies equally to books and raw materials to be used in book publishing.
"The legislative intent of RA 8047 is to adhere to the Florence Agreement and exempt books from import duties," Santiago said. "The BOC's interpretation has no legal basis."
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