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Unesco opposes RP move to tax imported books

MANILA, Philippines - A United Nations agency promoting the right to information expressed its objection to Manila’s move to tax imported books. The move “blatantly violates" provisions of a nearly 60 year-old agreement that exempts imported reading materials from duties, the Unesco [United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization] National Commission of the Philippines said in a statement. “The Philippines must respect" the 1950 Florence Agreement, having signed the agreement in August 7, 1979, John Donaldson, Unesco Senior Legal Officer based in Paris, said in the statement. Under article 1 of the agreement, “[t]he 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…" “The Philippines, as a Party to the Florence Agreement, must respect the principle Pacta sunt servanda," Donaldson added. “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." If Manila decides to impose duties or other charges on books from other states which are covered under the Florence Agreement, “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 Unesco member 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. 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." Next: Taxing books limit access to information, UN agency says Taxing books limit access to information, UN agency says 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. Besides slowing down the country’s efforts to become a knowledge society, taxing books “has an inherent anti-poor bias." “It is the marginalized sectors that will be most adversely affected by more expensive publications," the agency’s statement said. 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 (two for 100 individual) and negligible Internet penetration (six users per 100 inhabitants) highlight the importance of books and other printed publications as still the main sources of information and knowledge. Although the organization recognizes and supports the need to identify “new and additional sources of revenue to fund development programs and services," it asked government to refrain from taxing imported books since doing so will only “tax the country’s future." - GMANews.TV