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The Learning curve

Dark clouds over book publishing

There I was, ecstatic over the 39th Manila International Book Fair and the unusually large opening day crowd that heard the reading testimonies of Education Undersecretary Lorna Dino and Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo Puyat. Dino fondly credited her Grade 1 teacher in Sorsogon, Ms Elsa Ayo, for introducing her to the magic of books. She read to them after they had cleaned the classroom. Puyat confessed to being a nerd, staying in the refuge of libraries as a student and growing up reading in her bedroom when she wasn’t out campaigning for her father. These are accounts parents and educators need to hear again and again.

And I was also eagerly anticipating the presentation of the results of the 2017 NBDB Readership Survey this morning at MIBF by Dr. Dennis Mapa. The previous surveys were run in 2003, 2007 and 2012. But all these have been rudely tempered with the dark clouds hovering over the publishing industry: the proposed repeal of Section 12 of  Republic Act No. 8047, or the Book Publishing Industry Development Act, which created the National Book Development Board (NBDB)  in 1995.

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Section 12 provides tax incentives for the publishing industry, explicitly mentioned in two ways: All NBDB-registered enterprises and individuals “engaged in book publishing and its related activities… shall be entitled to the applicable fiscal and non-fiscal incentives as provided for under Executive Order No. 226, otherwise known as the Omnibus Investment Code, as amended, subject to the qualifications and requirements set by the Board of Investments (BOI); Provided, That book development activities shall always be included in the Investment Priority Plan (IPP).”

The second instance is related to the tax and duty-free importation of books or raw materials to be used in book publishing.

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Any repeal of these tax incentives disregards the long-established principle of the Florence Agreement — of which the Philippines has been a signatory since Aug. 2, 1952—that stipulates that no customs duties or any other charges, including value added tax, should be applied to imported educational, scientific and cultural materials. It meant that the Philippines had moved toward the abolition of trade barriers and had committed to the free flow of information between and among contracting states.

The “Tax Reform for Attracting Better and High-quality Opportunities,” or “Trabaho” under House Bill No. 8083, has just been passed in the House of Representatives. Now pending before the Senate is the “Corporate Income Tax and Incentives Reform Act” under Senate Bill No. 1906.

The House bill passed with no one in the industry having been consulted, despite the press statements about public hearings — and the NBDB has never been remiss about attending House hearings and meetings.   It is some comfort that lawyer Rodelio Dascil of the Senate Tax Study and Research Office has sought the opinion of the NBDB and industry organizations.

Unesco states that an important index of a country’s standard of living, education and self-awareness is the number of titles published every year. China, United States, United Kingdom, Japan, Russia top the list with hundreds of thousands of new titles. The Philippines ranks 64th in a list of 127 countries with 1,507 titles as of 1996—outdated data now. Based on the International Serial Book Numbers issued by the National Library of the Philippines, 7,671 titles were published in 2017. This is a drop from 9,480 titles in 2015.

In the first-ever industry study published by the Book Development Association of the Philippines in 2015, the Philippines ranked 8th among the 10 Asean countries in terms of new titles and re-editions per one million inhabitants, based on data from 1995-2013.  Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam topped the list.

There have been a few verbal assurances that these tax incentives will not be abolished but perhaps “rationalized”—but we cannot rely on such, as experience has taught us again and again. The word “rationalization” frightens. The NBDB’s stakeholders and the different publishing and printing associations stand opposed to such reforms, and have crafted their position papers for submission to the House and the Senate.

This latest reform measure sadly tells us once more how little we value books, learning, education and the empowerment of the citizenry. How I weep for this country we love.

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Neni Sta. Romana Cruz (nenisrcruz@ gmail.com) is chair of the NBDB and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: 39th Manila International Book Fair, Berna Romulo Puyat, book publishing, Lorna Dino, National Book Development Board, NBDB, Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, The Learning Curve
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