Publisher Kenneth Yu posted this anecdote earlier this week: a shipment of books arrived at the Mandaluyong Post Office and the customs officer was charging taxes for it (amounting to almost 100% of the retail price). Honestly, this--the arbitrary taxing of books--isn't news. What is news is that in order to be exempted from the tax, you have to personally file an exemption from the Department of Finance, which contributes to red tape and inconvenience (and you'd be surprised how many institutions earn money from simple red tape).
There are some things which I want to clarify: this is not (just) the book blockade. For the most part, the book blockade centered on importers of books, namely the distributors and bookstores. That aspect was successfully fended off (for now). The issue of arbitrary taxing of individuals at the post office is a separate issue, and was not championed by Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr.
Instead, the cause against this arbitrary taxing was taken up by UP Law Dean Marvic Leonen. Unfortunately, this case hasn't been resolved (and with the news, it seems that people intending on taxing citizens for books have escalated the conflict). Chingbee Cruz and Dean Marvic Leonen needs your receipts for proof against this corruption. Sadly, after the "success" of repealing the book blockade, coverage on this issue died down (and few people listened to me when I said that these are two separate issues).
I'd like to think I'm a practical person so here are my solutions to the "problem", depending on what you want to accomplish:
Obtain Books: If you're main goal is to simply obtain the books, here are some options you might want to consider:
- Order them via the local bookstore. I don't know why people don't use this option. Most of the books I currenty read (ARCs being the exemption) are ordered via the bookstore. They actually arrive and there are no "surprise" taxes. I recommend Powerbooks, National Bookstore, and A Different Bookstore for ordering books (I've tried them all at one point in time although my current preference is Powerbooks). The only bookstore I DON'T recommend you order books from is Fully Booked (the rest of their customer sevice is fine).
- If you're ordering books from a US retailer, you can have them shipped via Johnny Air Cargo. If you want further instructions, you can read about it here. Note though that you're effectively paying an additional $6.00 per pound, so this may or may not end up costing you more in the long run as opposed to ordering it via a local bookstore. I've tried this method and Johnny Air Cargo does deliver.
- If you're buying from an online retailer, see if they have an option of labeling the item as "gift". This is usually enough of a deterrent to prevent customs from charging you.
- Arrive at the post office early. The person who releases your packages is the post office. The person who charges you taxes (beyond the requisite P35.00) is the customs official. They are not the same person. And if you arrive at thet post office early (8:00 am is the opening time of the Mandaluyong Post Office), chances are, the former will arrive before the latter. If the latter doesn't show up when you claim your package, they can't charge you.
- File for the exemption. It's inconvenient but it beats giving in to corruption.
- Document the entire process. Keep the receipt (and forward it to Chingbee Cruz and Dean Marvic Leonen). In this day and age of ubiquitous technology, ask if you can record (whether via digital camera, voice recording, video, etc.) the process. If it's legal, they shouldn't have problems of you documenting it as proof (and be transparent with them on this--no hidden cameras and the like). Also ask for the custom official's name and designation.
- File a complaint. Here's an anecdote of what could be done before this new practice.
- Make lots of noise. Bring up the topic with politicians. Bring it up with the media.