Taxing our Future The UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines expresses its objection to the imposition of taxes

on imported books and other reading materials. This action is a blatant violation of the provisions of the 1950 Florence Agreement on the Importation of Educational, Scientific and Cultural Materials of which the Philippines is a signatory as of 07 August 1979. Article 1 of the Agreement provides, “The contracting States undertake not to apply customs duties or other charges on, or in connection with, the importation of (a) books, publications and documents…; (b) educational, scientific and cultural materials…” John Donaldson, UNESCO Senior Legal Officer based in Paris , stresses, “The Philippines, as a Party to the Florence Agreement, must respect the principle Pacta sunt servanda. This fundamental principle of the law of treaties, enshrined in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties of 1969, provides that treaties in force are binding upon the parties and must be performed in good faith. It follows that if the Philippines decides to apply custom duties or other charges on the importation of materials coming from another State Party, and for which the Florence Agreement foresees an exemption, it will be in breach of its obligations under this Agreement.” In addition to this, the Office of Legal Affairs of the Dept. Of Foreign Affairs (OLA-DFA) submits that DO No. 17-09 issued by the Dept. Of Finance is contrary to RP’s obligations under the UNESCO Florence Agreement and is inconsistent with its principle of free exchange of ideas and knowledge. As a member of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for over 60 years, the

Philippines should remain steadfast in adhering to the Organization’s principles and resolutions. The Philippines is not only a founding member of good standing, it is one of the few member-countries represented in the UNESCO Executive Board, having been elected in this august body in 2007. Our moral ascendancy will be in question if we do not hold fast to UNESCO’s mandate and principles. UNESCO’s mandate includes promoting the right to information as a fundamental human right. UNESCO also envisions the emergence of “knowledge societies that are inclusive, pluralistic, equitable, open and participatory.” The UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines believes that tax on imported books will undoubtedly limit access to information and knowledge and curtail the free flow of information. This imposition will also slow down if not obviate our country’s efforts to become a knowledge society. Moreover, the tax scheme has an inherent anti-poor bias as it is the marginalized sectors that will be most adversely affected by more expensive publications. Taxes on imported books and other publications will definitely widen the “knowledge divide” between the rich and poor sectors of society and therefore run counter to UNESCO’s vision of building an “inclusive” society. Taxing imported books is tantamount to taxing reading habits. At a time when parents and educators worldwide have expressed alarm on the continuing steep decline in the reading habits and practices especially among the young, the tax measure is counterproductive to current initiatives to rekindle a reading culture. The measure would surely further discourage young and even old minds from appreciating, recognizing and rediscovering the value of reading.

Even the advent of new information and communication technology (ICT), particularly the Internet, cannot ensure our people access to knowledge and information. While UNESCO recognizes the key role of the Internet, it emphasizes that the building of a knowledge society can be attained by maximizing the use of both traditional and new communication media channels in an open and free environment. Furthermore, in our country, the very low access to computers (2 for 100 individual) and negligible Internet penetration (6 users per 100 inhabitants) highlight the importance of books and other printed publications as still the main sources of information and knowledge. While we recognize and support the need by our revenue agencies to identify new and additional sources of revenue to fund development programs and services, we also call on these agencies to refrain from taxing imported books that feed the minds especially of our young generation. Such action can only succeed in taxing our future.