Leave tax incentives for books alone
Senate Bill No. 1906 filed by Senate President Vicente Sotto III continues to alarm citizens keenly aware of the importance of books in education, lifelong learning and everyday lives. It shames me to even bring up something as basic as this statement. Do our lawmakers really need reminding?
The bill known as Trabaho (Tax Reform for Attracting Better and High-quality Opportunities), while well-intentioned to “redistribute wealth and regulate the corporations’ operations” and increase the tax base, will repeal 123 special laws and investment tax incentives into a single omnibus tax code; among those to be repealed is Section 12 of Republic Act No. 8047 (p. 82, lines 3-6). The affected entities are government-owned and -controlled corporations, proprietary educational institutions, hospitals, foreign corporations, etc.
The eye of the controversy focuses on this—RA 8047, which created the National Book Development Board with the tremendous support of the sponsor, then Sen. Edgardo J. Angara (since deceased)—or the Book Publishing Industry Development Act in 1995. It specifically states that “persons and enterprises engaged in book publishing and its related activities duly registered with the National Book Development Board shall be entitled to the applicable fiscal and nonfiscal incentives as provided … under the Omnibus Investment Code…” Exempt from import duties and expanded valued-added tax are books, newspapers, periodicals, magazines, book publishing and printing.
The Book Development Association of the Philippines headed by Ani Rosa Almario, with industry stakeholders as authors, booksellers and publishers among its members, highlights three main points in its position paper: “Books are the most effective and economical tools for achieving educational growth, for imparting information and for recording, preserving, and disseminating the nation’s cultural heritage.” This basic tenet is also recognized in RA 8047, mandating the supply of “affordable, quality-produced books” for the national and international audience.
The Florence Agreement or the International Agreement on Importation of Educational, Scientific and Cultural Materials, to which the Philippines was a signatory in 1952, likewise exempts educational, scientific, cultural materials from any duties. Subsequent tax laws have upheld this exemption.
It has been pointed out that as it is, the effects of the 12-percent price increase on paper brought about by TRAIN 1 are passed on to the customer. Since we import paper and ink, price increases are felt. Hardest hit are the consumers, as if the promotion of reading and book buying were not challenge enough. Between basic daily needs and a book purchase, one has to be realistic about priorities.
It is enshrined in our very Constitution that the State shall give priority to “education, science and technology, arts, culture, and sports.” May the State truly pay attention to what matters to the wellbeing and empowerment of a nation.
Writers’ groups such as the Linangan sa Imahen, Retorika, at Anyo and Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas view this proposed tax reform as a step backward for the educational system, the stifling of the Philippine publishing industry, the death of Philippine literature, and the free flow of information and ideas. This is so especially in these days when history is rewritten so that yesterday’s villains suddenly become today’s heroes. Is reading a vice needing to be taxed? Will taxing books promote literacy?
The Philippine Book Development Federation or Philbook points out that RA 8047 clearly targets the improvement of the literacy of our citizens.
A public hearing on SB 1906 has been called by the Senate committee on ways and means chaired by Sen. Sonny Angara on Sept. 25. The Board of Investments will also hold a hearing on the Strategic Investments Priority Plan (SIPP) to craft industry development policies. It has retained book publishing in the mandatory list of SIPP for tax incentives. On Oct. 25, there will be trade and industry talks for book publishing to facilitate the growth of the industry.
There is an urgent need for all of us to be vigilant about these developments that will generate negative consequences today and in the future. How farther behind will we allow our nation to lag?
Neni Sta. Romana Cruz (nenisrcruz@ gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.
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