Robin Hemley Dotcom

More on the Great Book Blockade of 2009

Posted by Robin Hemley on May 14, 2009 6:43 AM

I'm off to Milwaukee for a radio interview and a workshop this weekend, but I wanted to give an update on the "Great Book Blockade of 2009." For the best update read this:

The Philippine government is expert at ignoring its own people despite a vocal and free press so we'll see how this plays out. But I'm hopeful that this will have results, in part because of the internet and its ability to get the word out and be a great tool for organization -- the evidence is the Facebook Group "Filipinos Against the Taxation of Books by Customs" with now almost 12,000 members in, what, 12 days? But as Manuel Quezon III, myself, and others have commented and urged, it's important for the group to tax action beyond FB because FB can also be a tidy little area of containment for the government. In other words, let all of these book lovers vent all they want on FB. Who cares? Not that I'm in any way belittling the group. I admire it. But it's important to take other organized steps. Norman Sisson has urged people to write to Unesco:
This seems like one of many good tactics to me. Not only should the U.N. be involved (as the treaty broken by the Philippines is a U.N. Treaty), but the embassies of countries that export books to the Philippines should also be kept informed: presumably, the U.S., Great Britain, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, Canada, etc. It should be remembered that this issue is not only a local one, but an international issue and the government should be called to account by the international as well as the Filipino community. The Book Development Association of the Philippines should bring this issue up with embassy officials as well and urge them to take a stand.

I would love to be a fly on the walls (though I think I'd stand a good chance of being swatted) of the Bureau of Customs, the Department of Finance, and Malacanang right now. I'm sure that this issue is getting some attention in these hallowed halls despite any public mask of disdain. Some, if not most, would surely like to dismiss the issue. Some ridicule it. Some would like to ignore it. But surely, some, maybe a growing number of corrupt officials, are getting more than a little nervous.

One more note: Filipinos who order books from Amazon and other such services have routinely paid taxes for their books at the Post Office for years. Now, more and more people have become aware of the Florence Agreement and its no wiggle room language re: the taxation of imported books. Is it possible that ordinary Filipinos might now have the power to refuse the petty extortion of Post Office officials? I'm not holding my breath on this one, but I think they should try. As my sister-in-law (a lawyer in the Philippines) once told me, "We have plenty of laws here. We don't lack laws. We lack implementation of those laws." Understood. But still, if I were picking up books at the post office, I would make a stink about it every time and I would get the name of the official who made me pay to get my books. And I would ask others with the same experience to pool these names (and their individual experiences) so that we could create a database. And eventually, together we might make a case against them.

If there's one thing this controversy has shown me, it's that one should never underestimate the collective power of an informed public.

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