Earlier today, it was reported that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, amidst a torrent of criticism towards the Bureau of Customs and their imposition of tax on imported books, ordered the Department of Finance to lift the tariff on books.
The book blockade has finally been broken!
But is it really? I hope people who supported the protest against the book blockade wouldn’t lower their guard so soon. It’s one thing for the President to issue an order, it’s another thing what Customs will do.
What if they still continue to tax your books at your local post office? What are you to do then?
Books are not the only things involved in this.
If one reads the provisions of the Florence Agreement carefully, it frees not only imported books from tariff, but a lot of other things as well:
Books, publications and documents
(i) Printed books.
(ii) Newspapers and periodicals.
In the Nairobi Protocol of 1976, the agreement is further refined:
Books, publications and documents
(i) Printed books, irrespective of the language in which they are printed and whatever the amount of space given over to illustrations, including the following:
(a) luxury editions;
(b) books printed abroad from the manuscript of an author resident in the im-porting country;
(c) children’s drawing and painting books;
(d) school exercise books (workbooks) with printed texts and blank spaces to be filled in by the pupils;
(e) crossword puzzle books containing printed texts;
(f) loose illustrations and printed pages in the form of loose or bound sheets and
reproduction proofs or reproduction films to be used for the production of books.
(ii) Printed documents or reports of a non-commercial character.
(iii) Microforms of the articles listed under items (i) and (ii) of this Annex, as well as
of those listed under items (i) to (vi) of Annex A to the Agreement.
(iv) Catalogues of films, recordings or other visual and auditory material of an educational, scientific or cultural character.
(v) Maps and charts of interest in scientific fields such as geology, zoology, botany, mineralogy, palaeontology, archaeology, ethnology, meteorology, climatology and geophysics, and also meteorological and geophysical diagrams.
(vi) Architectural, industrial or engineering plans and designs and reproductions thereof.
(vii) Bibliographical information material for distribution free of charge.
Works of art and collectors’ pieces of an educational, scientific or cultural character
(i) Paintings and drawings, whatever the nature of the materials on which they have been executed entirely by hand, including copies executed by hand, but excluding manufactured decorated wares.
(ii) Ceramics and mosaics on wood, being original works of art.
(iii) Collectors’ pieces and objects of art consigned to galleries, museums-and other institutions approved by the competent authorities of the importing country for the purpose of duty-free entry of those types of materials, on condition they are not resold.
I’m coming back to this because it’s clear that the agreement includes graphic novels and comic books. Customs people can easily make the “interpretation” that they had been instructed to exempt only “BOOKS”. After all, “BOOKS” has been the main operative word of this entire protest. And yet, the Florence agreement includes so much more than just books.
The exemption SHOULD include comic books and graphic novels. And through this, comic books imported from abroad should become more affordable.
I hope the local comic book shops take advantage of this as I know fully well how much they are paying Customs with every shipment just to get their comics to the readers.
Some authors have expressed gratitude for the taxation of books because they believe that when faced with expensive imported books, the people would read local books instead. This is of course, an assumption on their part that people simply don’t buy and read local books for no other reason than people prefer imported books, regardless of quality.
I don’t agree with this. I believe quality wins out. If your book is good, people will buy it whether it is local or imported. I don’t want to be forced by circumstance to read something I don’t want to read. If no one is reading your work, then there’s a good reason for it. You might just have to be prepared to accept that your book may not be as entertaining as Harry Potter. But if you think your work is good and would sell if only people will read it, well… what are you doing to promote it? What are you doing to get your work out there? Or are you just sitting on your ass waiting for people to come? It’s not enough that you write your book. You have to find ways to make people aware of it.
It’s also about subject matter. Except for a few people, hardly anyone wants to read intellectual masturbation. Many people are turned off by vocabulary that’s too deep. It’s one thing to want to raise the standard of writing and the quality of stories, but it’s another thing to write something so intellectualy impenetrable that you would alienate your audience.
Don’t be jealous of the audience of JK Rowling if your own work needs a dictionary for people to understand.
I’m not afraid that less expensive imported comic books would eat away the audience for my local comics work. I say bring it on. Bring it the fuck on. I believe in my work and in spite of the Secret Invasions and the Infinity Crisis comic books, people still read and buy my work. And I’m really proud of that.