“In terms of educating the masses through reading, in terms of developing the reading culture of the nation, the taxes government plans to levy and collect will be nothing but destructive. We will be a nation that subscribes to underdevelopment in every sense of the word.”

WE, THE Philippine PEN Center, as member of the PEN International, the world association of writers, editors and translators in all branches and classes of literature, journalism, history, biography, science, and philosophy, are bound by the PEN Charter to carry out the following: 1) Promote and maintain friendship and intellectual cooperation among writers and readers in all countries in the interests of literature, freedom of expression, and international goodwill; and 2) Enable the unhampered transmission of thought and knowledge within and among nations.

We are writers and readers molded by centuries of books that have come our way. We are writers and readers of books that make genuine education possible in and out of classrooms. We are writers and readers of books, the common currency by which we trade ideas and stories, engage truth, and push the limits of our imagination. Books preserve and enrich culture; books move science forward. Books invigorate our life of the mind and heart, and raise the level of our humanity.

That is why the Florence Agreement, ratified in 1950 by 100 countries, including the Philippines, ensures the free flow of educational, scientific and cultural books and other publications between and among countries. This means they are not levied customs duties as they move from country to country.

That is also why at the heart of the Philippines’ own Republic Act 8047 of 1995, which established the National Book Development Board, is Section 12, Incentives for Book Development. The provision recognizes the significant role of the book publishing industry in national development, that books are “instrumental in the citizenry’s intellectual, technical, and cultural development – the basic social foundation for the economic and social growth of the country.”

Books, despite technological developments, are still the most effective and economical tools in growing education, disseminating information, and preserving and enriching the nation’s cultural heritage.

Precisely enshrined in Republic Act 8047 is the commitment to promote and support the book publishing industry so that it can make available all of the time enough affordable, quality-produced books for both the domestic and export markets.

The same Section 12 of RA 8047 “exempts books, magazines, periodicals, newspapers, including book publishing and printing, as well as its distribution and circulation” from the coverage of the expanded value added tax law.

It is this critical proviso that the proposed “Trabaho” tax reform seeks to repeal. Known as the Tax Reform for Attracting Better and High-quality Opportunities (Trabaho), Senate Bill No. 1906 filed by Senate President Vicente Sotto III seeks to make up for the loss of government revenues resulting from the reduction of corporate taxes by repealing 123 special laws and investment tax incentives, including Section 12 of RA 8047.

The inclusion of expanded-VAT-exempt books and publications in the proposed “Trabaho” law violates the Florence Agreement of 1950. It is also counter-productive since books and education are fundamental to the economic growth of the nation, which the tax bill purportedly seeks to foster. As RA 8047 declares, books are “instrumental in the citizenry’s intellectual, technical, and cultural development – the basic social foundation for the economic and social growth of the country.”

We therefore appeal to the Senate to reconsider repealing Section 12 of RA 8047 and reaffirm the Philippines’ ratification of and commitment to the Florence Agreement, as the Philippines did 68 years ago.

Let us not come to a situation where when we buy a book, including school books, we are paying to the government not only the added VAT, but the customs duty imposed on the book, imported paper for printing those books, ink that is also imported, and the latest machinery purchased from abroad by a printer.

In terms of educating the masses through reading, in terms of developing the reading culture of the nation, the taxes government plans to levy and collect will be nothing but destructive. We will be a nation that subscribes to underdevelopment in every sense of the word. Our students who are the largest users of books will be the poorer, and will not be, and cannot be, our writers and readers of the future.

To the Senate and its honorable members, please spare Section 12 of RA 8047 from repeal.

From The Philippine Center of International PEN (Poets & Playwrights, Essayists, Novelists)