POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 9 May 2013, Thursday
The Case of the Undelivered Books
My sister in California sent me four books – three textbooks I need for my PhD dissertation and one old book of poetry – via FedEx on April 20. The package arrived in Manila April 22.
As of April 22, the tracking system in the US showed that the package was in the FedEx Paranaque sorting facility. So I waited a week. On April 29, still no books, so I called the FedEx office.
“Larry” told me it was still with Customs “for checking” and “to see if there are taxes to pay.” I said, “The package only contains four books.” He referred me to their Import department. Someone there told me, “Within the day.” Still nothing.
I called again the next day and asked for the names of the Customs examiners who were holding my books, and the office where they are located. “Curly” refused to tell me and said, “I can’t give you a name because there is no examiner yet for your shipment.” I was getting increasingly frustrated, so he said, “Gagawan nalang namin ng paraan within the day.”
That was odd. If that was possible, why had they not found a way sooner? To see what would happen, I introduced myself as an MST columnist and asked to speak to a manager.
After being put on hold for a while, my call was referred to a supervisor – “Moe.” He said my package had not been included in the manifest of the airline with the rest of the cargo shipment, meaning my parcel entered the country without documentation.
Moe said it was still with Customs for clearance, and that they had to create a document of “informal entry” and had to redo the papers of the shipment to reflect my lone little package.
This didn’t sound to me like I was going to get my books soon, so I played the “Media ako!” gambit to the hilt. At that, he said, “I’ll talk to our broker and we’ll find a way to expedite this.” Later that afternoon he called back and said Customs released the package, but they couldn’t deliver it the next day, May 1, it being a holiday, so they would deliver on May 2.
A respected journalist friend contacted Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon about this case, who sent this message: “[Books] are not taxable because the quantity isn’t commercial quantity and there is a DoF [Department of Finance] order which mandates us to implement the Florence Agreement on importation of books.”
DoF Department Order No. 57-2011 emphasizes “the duty-free and VAT-exempt status of imported books” and provides that “all imported books, whether for commercial or personal use…are exempt from customs duties.”
Books are “considered as personal effects or for personal use” if the quantities do not exceed “12 copies of any one work when imported by an institution or six copies of any one work when imported by an individual.”
Commissioner Biazon added that if sent the consignee name and airway bill number, he could “have it followed through.” I was gratified by the quick response and offer for action. But how about for those people without connections?
A professor and a PhD classmate of mine says her mother (also taking her PhD) “was taxed for books for her dissertation, too “…about a year ago,” adding “It was done under the radar.”
Another professor and published Palanca Award-winning writer says she also used FedEx for shipping a few books and “… we paid two thousand in tax. I needed the books. Emotional blackmail.”
On the morning of May 2, I checked if my package was for delivery that day. “Shemp” in the Import department assured me it was. I asked again for the names of the Customs examiners and where they were based. Shemp gave me three names (that his other officemates refused to give) and said these are “in-house” examiners assigned to that FedEx office.
When I asked, “Is it okay with you if I give these names to Commissioner Biazon?” he said, “Yes, so that he can check on his people.”
What went on here? I don’t think I’ll know the whole truth of the matter. I’m just glad I finally got my books.
It’s shame enough that in this country we don’t have access to particular books we need.
It’s a deeper shame that when we go to great expense and effort to buy the books and other things we need abroad, we fret that we might have to ransom them.
The greatest shame is when you require influence or connections in order to get people to do the things they are bound by their duty and profession to perform.