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Sacrificing literacy for taxes




THE furor raised by the reported plan to tax imported books to raise additional revenues and cut down government defi­cit was a shocking initia­tive. Not only did it shake the academic sector; the outcry also reasserted the value of literacy and the important role it plays in ensuring a truly responsive educational system and in national development.

Although the Finance department was unusually quick to douse water on the uproar, the government’s reaction seems to affirm that indeed there was a plan to remove the tax exemptions. We welcome its encouraging assurance that it will continue to respect the Florence Agreement, a 1950 United Nations treaty the Philippines signed on August 7, 1979.

Under the accord, signatory-states collectively agreed to do away with customs duties on imported books and magazines with educational, scientific and cultural significance.

Finance Undersecretary Karl Kendrick Chua was clever in citing certain details on the measures the government is adopting as regards the book industry and its related services.

Under House Bill No. 8083, the erstwhile Trabaho bill, also known as Train 2, there is an entry that repeals the tax provision under Republic Act 8047, also known as the “Book Publishing Industry Development Act,” which shall take effect two years after its enactment.

While its proponents justify that the inclusion of such proviso does not mean the removal of VAT and duty-free importation of books, any student of law will tell you that as soon as it takes effect, the government assumes the authority to execute what the law states.

Either Chua made a double-talk on the issue, but the clandestine move to lift tax exemptions on book importation is certain to derail the gains of the book industry under RA 8047. Even if the finance department has assured that the “book publishing industry will be included in the Strategic Investment Priority Plan,” such insertion depends on the evaluation the government managers have yet to conduct.

Granting that the book industry gets into the SIPP, that does not assure imported books will remain free from tax imposts and duties. To candy-coat the move, reports said Chua even pointed out the book industry’s inclusion in the SIPP will give it more benefits under a proposed single menu of incentives adopted under the expanded Tax Code.

Chua’s explanations are incredulous at best.