It is a great irony that on the day Cielito Habito showed that countries investing in education and health are more effective in reducing poverty (Worthwhile investments in PDI, May 4, 2009), Manolo Quezon came out with a column exposing the Bureau of Customs' unfortunate decision to levy customs duties on book importations just to meet their revenue targets ("The great book blockade of 2009 in PDI, May 4, 2009). This 'book tax' just shows the administration's low regard for education. This issue reminded me also of government's decision a couple of years ago not to exempt medicines from the Value Addex Tax, showing its lack of concern for its people's health.
A government does not only exercise its taxation power to raise revenues for its operations. Taxation policy also highlights state priorities. What then can we say about a government which hastily reduces tariffs on imports that destroy local industries, purportedly in support of the doctrines of free market economics and globalization, but does not hesitate to reinterpret a decades-old tax treaty to impose a tax on imported books that can enrich the minds of its people? Already hard-pressed to promote a reading culture among its citizens, the last thing this country needs is another deterrent to book accessibility.
What then can we say about a government which trumpets championing the Cheaper Medicines Law while at the same time collecting eleven centavos out of every peso spent by a terminally ill patient on his life-prolonging medicine? Is it right to collect taxes from the sick to fund congressional junkets to Las Vegas and the printing of tarpaulins used by politicians for electioneering? Mamamatay na lang, bubuwisan pa.
An efficient public health and education system is supposed to be society's great equalizer but this government only increased the advantage of the haves over the have-nots in our society with its taxation policies. Legal doctrine says that the government's power to tax is absolute. But we must also remember that the power of government also emanates from its people. It is time that we Filipinos demand for taxation policies that, as the Constitution says, would embody our ideals and aspirations and promote the common good. I encourage everyone to flood the mailboxes and electronic inboxes of the BIR, Bureau of Customs and the Department of Finance to strongly demand for the removal of these taxes on book importations and medicine purchases.