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Book burning 2011


You’ll have to pay  P22,937 duty on these five donated books,” the Manila  brorkerage firm  said, day after Christmas. Unless claimed within 30 days, the books  will  be deemed  “abandoned”

What will be torched?

Five copies of the new missal published last autumn by the U.S. National Conference of  Catholic Bishops. It reflects changes since English was first used in the mass, during Vatican II, in the 1960s.

The Catholic Bishops Conference here willfinalize similar revisions later this year. Study commissions and individual  researchers are slogging through a  draft. “The U.S. text  will  be  a  useful study aid,” said this Nevada  donor.

“A Republic of Letters” (PDI / 28 May 2009) noted that  taxes  for  books under Finance Department Order 17-09 fractured  the Florence Agreement, wrote then Inquirer columnist, now Information undersecretary Manuel Quezon III. “The Philippines has been a signatory since 1952.”

The Agreement waives duties on “educational, scientific and cultural materials”.  . . Exception are  publications “for advertising,” the Bureau of  Customs  then claimed  that   Republic  Act  8047, in one word – “only” –  authorized taxes on books.

Bunk, snapped Ateneo’s Joaquin Bernas, S.J.   “I don’t believe Congress would attempt to repeal a treaty commitment by the mere insertion of one word. Neither may customs attempt to insert for whatever purpose what Congress did not insert.”

“The best way of gauging enlightenment of a nation is to examine the attitude of its officials towards books,” the Manila Chronicle’s I.P. Soliongco wrote in 1957. “If this test were applied to the Philippines, it would  be found that we’re one of the most backwards in the world.”

Inquirer columnist Quezon provided  that  overdue test  in 2009. Amor propio, however, prodded customs bureaucrats to stonewall, noted Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo made sympathetic noises about  freedom of ideas. She  did  nothing.  “A barking dog never bites,” a 13th century French  proverb  says.

“There are risks and costs to a program of action,” John F. Kennedy wrote  “But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.”  It fell upon the new  Aquino administration to start  dismantling  book curbs. However, this reform  moved   jerkily.

Finance Secretary Cesar V. Purisima rushed a clarification in Department Order No. 57-2011, dated Dec. 9. This order amplifies   guidelines to  facilitate the inflow of books.

Books for personal use no longer require  any government endorsement to secure exemption from customs duties and value-added taxes, Purisima said. Just declare them  upon entry into the country. Personal use  means quantities do not exceed  12 copies of any one work when imported by an institution. There is a cap of six copies when imported by an individual.

DOF’s order, however,  “has yet to be implemented at the ground level…by Customs and courier services” Sen. Pia Cayetano found  “We haven’t been notified of this new DPF order,” our broker emailed 28 days after  Purisima issued  it.) “I want to ensure there won’t be cumbersome paperwork in importing books for personal  use,”  Cayetano added.  She’d  take up with DOF too stiff criteria  for commercial book imports.

Books have had a turbulent track record here.  In many public schools, many  are unable to read even when they reach grade  4.   Many drop out before that  because of poverty. Yet, we’re taken a back when our kids repeatedly  trailed in International Mathematics and Science  tests?

Extortionate book taxes here interlocked  with flawed textbooks. For over a decade,. Miriam School supervisor Antonio Calipjo Go documented gross  factual and  grammatical errors that studded science and English textbooks.

His criticism  sapped textbook publishing moguls balance sheets. Publishers hounded Go with  nuisance suits. Some columnists  pounced on Go. Hostile newspapers ignored the formal request  from the Philippine Press Council to publish rebuttals by Go. Was that the coup d’ grace for the Council?

A sea-change occurred when the Aquino administration took over. Representing the President, Education Secretary Armin Luistro  told Go that his documented criticisms were  welcome. They served as incentives to reform.

The Senate looked  into this issue. Little came of  that effort. In 1997, a House of  Reprsentatives probe led by then Rep. Raul  del Mar documented  similar flaws.

The Department of Education’s committee on instructional material  “did  not do a single thing  since the 1997 inquiry,”  German national Helmut Haas  said. His Grade 5 son’s  copy of  “The Wonderful World of Science” textbook, for example,  claims  “algae is a fish and dust  a minute organism.”

We have no monopoly on narrow minds.  Malaysia ’s Internal Security Ministry used the draconian Printing Presses and Publications Act of 1984 to ban 45 books lest “they disrupt peace and harmony.” Beijing  proscribed  the secret  journal of Premier Zhao Ziyangm “Prisoner of State.”

Thailand forbids sale of the book “The King Never Smiles.” Written by Paul Handley, this biography of the widely admired, now ailing, monarch Bhumibol Adyulyadej documents his less than-exemplary successors.  Will the creeping liberalization by the once-paranoid Burmese junta lift bans on even  travel books like “Lonely Planet?”

“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them,” Mark Twain said.

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Tags: Books , Education , featured columns , opinion , Reading , Taxes

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