I have a backlog of at least a dozen books in my reading list. I’m a compulsive book buyer, and no trip to the mall is complete without passing by Power Books, NBS, orFully Booked. I love hanging out at PB-Live!, but the place has not replenished its supply for months now, except maybe for copies of the Twilight series. Another thing I heard was that The Java Man, its in-store cafe, had been closed, so that only made visits there a lot unattractive and possibly depressing. Coffee and books just go hand in hand for me, and The Java Man-less PowerBooks is kind of weird, as that branch of PB has always had the coffee shop.

Fully Booked has a new branch at Greenbelt 5, and it also comes with, get this, a Starbucks branch inside the store. Yay. If only their collection were as huge as that of Power Plant branch’s, it would be great. That, plus lower prices. I’ve always thought that their books were a few bucks more expensive than those sold at PB or NBS.
With the great book blockade hoopla imposed by the Department of Finance and implemented by the Bureau of Customs, it doesn’t look like we would be enjoying affordable books any longer. In fact, due to the directive by DOF, the Customs bureau has started to impose a 1% tax on educational titles and 5% on non-educational ones that enter the country.
As everyone who has been following this issue already knows, it all started when the customs bureau noticed the huge volume of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight being imported by book sellers. When customs inspector Rene Agulan checked a shipment, he demanded that dues be paid on the copies that then were already being held by his bureau in spite of the decades-old practice of protecting such imports against tarriffs levied by governments on other products that were coming in from different parts of the globe. Because the Philippines is one of the largest markets of books written in English, the possible amount of fees that could be collected from the book distribution industry is simply enormous. Word has it that days after an order to collect taxes from all books entering the country, a memorandum went around Customs congratulating everyone for their work; some speculate that the congratulatory note was of course because of the increase in their collections.
One other facet of this issue is the fact that the Philippines is a signatory to the Florence Agreement, a UNESCO-supported treaty that aims to make importing educational, cultural, and scientific materials easier by removing “tariff, tax, trade and currency obstacles.” Imposing taxes on books, and materials used in producing books, is a violation of this agreement, say pundits. Of course, according to the Finance department, particularly Undersecretary Estela Sales, there was a provision in the agreement for taxing books anyway, and they were just implementing what was in the agreement. An order to implement the new DOF rule basedo on Republic Act No. 8047 was published on papers last Easter. Pray tell, who the heck reads newspapers on Easter Sunday? Certainly not the book-buying public, much of which are spending the long Holy Week break in provinces, resorts, or outside the country.
I haven’t read the Florence Agreement in full, but imposing taxes on printed materials that enter the country certainly spells b-a-d-n-e-w-s. Except maybe for insanely popular titles, such as Twilight or the Harry Potter series, it already takes forever for new books to enter the country, as well as to replenish copies. I asked Bibliarch to reserve Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything in October last year, and I still have to get my hand on a new copy. I should have bought one when I had the chance.
I checked the new branch of NBS at Glorietta 5 earlier, and noticed that there were a few new titles on the stands. But I’m worried that unless a book is sure to sell like hot cakes, it just might not be possible for us to buy those that don’t necessarily sell by the thousands, such as business, technology, psychology (not self-help, no!), or sociology materials.

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago is not amused by the book blockade:

“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.

In a great book bar fight, I’d like to have the lady on my side.