Of course, that’s saying it nicely.  The issue makes my blood boil, because I believe all sorts of books should be accessible to all Filipinos and that reading books should be encouraged in schools and at home in order to stimulate independent thought and imagination, and facilitate learning.  I read for pleasure, for my own education and to learn about things in other parts of the world. That the Bureau of Customs would take it upon themselves to interpret law in favor of taxation over Filipinos’ ready access to literature is utterly ridiculous and misguided.  And heavy-handed.  Someone has actually written an article about this power trip that has been widely circulated on Facebook.  If you haven’t read about it yet, it’s time you should.

Guggenheim fellow and University of Iowa writer Robin Hemley tells us about The Great Book Blockade of 2009 in Dispatches From Manila:

“Over coffee one afternoon, a book-industry professional (whom I can’t identify) told me that for the past two months virtually no imported books had entered the country, in part because of the success of one book, Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. The book, an international best seller, had apparently attracted the attention of customs officials. When an examiner named Rene Agulan opened a shipment of books, he demanded that duty be paid on it…”  Read on.

The part about “books on publishing” is enough to make an international laughing stock of our Customs officials, who perhaps do not read for pleasure.  I sure as hell would not like a bureaucrat to limit my access to reading matter by taxing it out of my budget.  If you (parents, teachers and friends) agree with me that books are right up there with food, clothing, and shelter in terms of priorities in our lives, then make a stand.

In response to this, journalist Inday Espina-Varona wrote in Facebook about her Negros Occidental High School alumni class’ efforts to donate secondhand books to their school library.  Books, I agree, are useless if they aren’t read, but it seems some officials are more used to having their pictures taken with book donations instead of actually making dynamic use of them.  Inday’s class had to specifically insist that the books be read and handled by students, instead of being displayed like fragile museum pieces.

Inday goes on to express her love for books and the values her parents instilled in her:

“For me, the project is a way of giving thanks to Nanay and Dad, who provided us with books in our youth and who allowed free rein to their inquisitive and sometimes irreverent brood.I remember Nanay’s stories about scrimping to buy books, about gentle salespeople who didn’t shoo them away from bookstore shelves. My classmates know that solving the problem of poverty is beyond our ken but that each book held by a student represents a gate that could lead them out.”

Robin Hemley’s article and various accompanying notes expressing passion for books, bafflement, disbelief and outrage are circulating in Facebook.  The online campaign has snowballed and is now an official Cause.  If you’re on Facebook, express your support NOW.  If FB isn’t your style, then Plurk it or Tweet it or write about this in your blogs so other people may know.  Parents and teachers should be concerned for their children’s reading welfare.

Manuel L. Quezon III wrote about it in his column in  And he writes:

“But of course this is simply yet another manifestation of a larger trend, which is to deemphasize government’s being in place to serve the citizenry, and instead fortify its existing in order to mulct the population: the rule of law being nothing more than systematized extortion, whether one talks of traffic enforcement or books.”

It saddens me that as a result of this debacle there will be a certain percentage of Filipino youth that will not be reading for pleasure because “books are too expensive.”  So much for stimulating independent thought and imagination.

I heartily agree with Inday, who ended her Facebook note with this call to action:

“… I take the taxes on books personally. And I am sure, many do. While the effort in Facebook is laudable, there is need to transcend the virtual world. Ten thousand is a good number. But if people believe they can get a million signatures for someone, surely we can get more for this endeavor. Let’s do it, office per office; neighborhood by neighborhood; school by school. Let’s test it in court. And, yeah, if a rally is called, I’ll be there.”

Note:  Many thanks to Inday Espina-Varona, who gave me permission to quote from her note, which I wasn’t sure I could link directly to.

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