Sending balikbayan box is a system used by Filipinos abroad to send personal effects and other goods to there loved ones in the Philippines. Early last week, Philippines’ Bureau of Customs (BOC) announced its plans to intensify campaign against technical smuggling, accordingly, the government is losing millions of pesos in taxes due to technical smuggling through balikbayan boxes. This news deluge criticisms not just from Filipinos abroad, most specifically Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW), even lawmakers and other concerned sectors also expressed their frustration on BOC’s plan to impose tougher measures on balikbayan boxes, whether in Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, your newsfeed will be flooded with (Filipino) public who turned to social media to express disappointment and complaint over the BOC’s plan.
If you have been following my blog, you would notice that I rarely express antagonism towards anything, as much as I can, I want to present positivity in my writings. However, being one of those people who will be directly affected with this move, I can’t help but react on the news that I have been reading regarding this issue in the past few days.
According to BOC officials, balikbayan boxes are duty and tax-free packages designed for OFWs sending home gifts to their families, but it should always be noted that contents of these packages should not be exceeding $500 in value, therefore, some items in the balikbayan boxes can be considered as smuggled goods due to non-compliance with the Philippine Tariff and Customs Code. BOC also stressed that balikbayan boxes can well be used to transport commercial items for businesses. As part of customs agency’s intensified campaign against this so-called technical smuggling through balikbayan boxes, BOC officials announced plans to randomly screen balikbayan boxes sent by migrant workers. Another issue that frustrated the public is the plan to impose tax or additional fees on forwarding costs for the OFW boxes.
I am one with these Filipinos abroad with their sentiments about their issue, and as a stakeholder, I would like to raise some questions to the attention of our Mr. Custom Commissioner-
- Why concentrate on our balikbayan boxes that normally contain toothpaste and bath soaps, why don’t you turn to those big time smugglers that are happening in almost all ports in the Philippines?
- When these boxes are randomly opened, what is the public’s assurance that not a single item in our box will be taken away? How will you ensure to us that we need not to worry about an item being planted in our box just to extort from the box sender?
- If there has been lost and stolen items from these boxes before, how much more that you are now forcing us to accept this system of exposing those hard earned goods for abuses?
- Yes, under the law you have the right to conduct random inspection and it will be to the public’s advantage when you finally caught those smugglers using balikbayan boxes in bringing in illegal items to the country. But in doing this, do you have a well-defined procedure to protect our balikbayan boxes from abuses?
- What is the agency’s plan on the possibility of items contained in our balikbayan boxes being lost or stolen during inspection, when we file a complaint, how soon can you get back to us?
- Will there be a closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras installed in your offices to monitor the opening of balikbayan boxes?
- What happened to the 2006 $6 million (Php298 million) allotted to install 30 x-ray machines in 10 of Philippine’s biggest port and in 2013 BOC’s invitation to bidders to supply 20 X-ray machines to be installed in airports through a $6 million (Php148 million) contract?
- Isn’t the aim of the X-ray program is to do away with manual operations including inspecting each balikbayan box? Why are we now moving backwards? In this modern day where almost everything is digital, why are we now turning into manual inspection which is very tedious?
We do understand that you need to make up for your agency’s revenue collection deficits, but please don’t nitpick on our balikbayan boxes, instead of turning into our boxes which are products of our hard work and sacrifice just to send our love to our family. A few more days and it’ll be “Ber” months once again, this is the time when we Filipinos abroad are starting to fill our “big box” with items that we intend to send to our family and friends back home, most of our OFWs are working on extended hours or taking extra jobs just to fill our boxes in time for the yuletide season, yet we have to deal with this issue?