books and a call to arms
In a happy case of serendipity, I discovered Robin Hemley’s Dispatches from Manila while enjoying my favorite pastime of having a laugh over McSweeney’s Lists. He’s a fantastic writer and director of the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa. As it happens, he’s on a Guggenheim Fellowship in the Philippines, writing about his experiences in my beloved country. It’s been a pleasure to read his often hilarious accounts of the goings-on in Manila, most of which I’m all too familiar with, but seen this time through the eyes of a fascinated American author.
His latest dispatch, however, chronicles a new corruption in the ever-expanding list of our government’s atrocities. Apparently, customs officials decided to renege on a U.N. treaty signed in 1952 that guarantees the importation of books duty-free. They discovered that there’s a lot of money to be made in taxing imported books and set about to do just that, resulting in a curtailment of shipments and a bevy of booksellers with empty shelves.
Read Robin’s full article here: http://mcsweeneys.net/links/manila/1dispatch6.html
The worst part is that the customs officials’ re-interpretation of the law (now only educational books can be considered protected by the U.N. treaty) puts the decision of which books are educational squarely on their shoulders. Or as Robin puts it, “Customs would henceforth be the arbiter of what was and wasn’t educational.” That’s just all kinds of wrong, I don’t even know where to begin!
The good news is, the article is getting a lot of attention in the Philippines:
And if you’re on Facebook, you can join the cause Filipinos Against The Taxation Of Books By Customs.
That’s what I did 🙂
New developments summarized with relevant links here: http://www.thepoc.net/index.php/Booklat/Booklat-News/Sound-and-fury-over-book-blockade.html
And Robin Hemley’s blog is always current on this issue as well: http://www.robinhemley.com/blog/index.html
It’s fantastic to see book lovers unite over this sad state of affairs. Here’s to hoping everyone keeps up the good fight!