“The balikbayan box arose in the 1980s when Section 105 of the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines as amended by Executive Order No. 206 provides duty and tax free privileges to overseas foreign workers ( OFW ) enacted by former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos due to resurgence of Filipinos working overseas. The Philippine Bureau of Customs Circular allowed tax-free entry of personal goods in the country from Filipinos overseas. People then began sending items through friends and co-workers who were returning to the Philippines.” – Wikipedia
There has been a lot of talk on the news and social media regarding the announcement of the Philippine Bureau of Customs (BOC) wanting to impose a tighter control on the inspection of “Balikbayan boxes” arriving in the Philippine ports. Balikbayan boxes are like “care packages” of goodies, clothes, food, toys toiletries, etc., placed in a corrugated box, sent to the families of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) back in the Philippines through freight forwarders or brought by the OFW when returning home. It is part of the Filipino culture in which travelers usually brought “pasalubong” back to their families after travelling. See my old (really old) post regarding Balikbayan boxes here.
As per the Customs Commissioner Alberto Lina, the main reason for implementing more stringent rules on these balikbayan boxes is that some of these balikbayan boxes are used to ship taxable items and are being undetected which causes the loss of Php50 million or Php600 million a year for BOC. The BOC reiterated some of the following guidelines for balikbayan boxes:
- Contents of the balikbayan box must not exceed
US$500 (current rate of php23,000)Php10,000 in value
- Goods must not exceed a dozen of each kind. i.e. You are now limited to sending more than 12 of those corned beef cans!
- Apparel/clothes, whether used of not, must not exceed 3 yards per cut.
- Home appliances are not allowed unless these are consigned to returning Filipino residents and overseas contract workers.
With this, the BOC intends to conduct “random” inspections of incoming balikbayan boxes and impose taxes on goods contained in these boxes if found that they don’t adhere to the guidelines. This is where I and my fellow OFWs cry foul.
Those balikbayan boxes are our personal belongings, each and every item we carefully pack and send are fruits of our hard work, and a symbol of our everyday sacrifice being away from our loved ones just to earn a living. Just imagining the smiles on the faces of our families opening our gifts through these boxes makes it worth our sacrifices.
“Kung di ka nanakawan ng mga freight-forwarders, BOC naman and magnanakaw sa iyo! Ano pa matitira sa padala mo?”
Even before the news of the BOC implementation came out, OFWs were already faced with issues when sending their balikbayan boxes. Some boxes takes a lot of time to be delivered than the expected date of arrival; a box sent through sea cargo and expected to be delivered in 45 days sometimes get delivered after 90 days, if it doesn’t get “lost” in transit. Oftentimes, these boxes are purposely opened and looted by freight-forwarders or those delivering the items in the Philippines. Damaged boxes through mishandling are also common. Imagine the distress of the OFW who suffers any of the situation above!
I myself don’t have any qualms regarding the guidelines imposed by BOC for balikbayan boxes. My budget each year for my balikbayan doesn’t exceed Php23,000 and I don’t intend to sell goods in the Philippines either. I can’t fully say that all OFWs adhere to the guidelines, some entities may indeed be using these balikbayan privileges to smuggle taxable items into Philippines shores as explained by BOC.
The reputation of the Philippines Bureau of Customs isn’t outstanding, to say the least. For them to inspect and open my balikbayan box gives way for looting my hard-earned “pasalubong”, making excuses and placing taxes on items that should be non-taxable and mishandling the now opened box. Would they seal the box with outmost care as much as we’ve given when we packed the box to prevent damages to the items? This only presents a 2nd layer of issues stated before; aside from the looting from freight-forwarders, BOC inspectors now have a “legal” basis to loot these boxes. “Kung di ka nanakawan ng mga freight-forwarders, BOC naman and magnanakaw sa iyo! Ano pa matitira sa padala mo?” If a balikbayan box arrives opened, the freight-forwarder can easily say that it was BOC who opened the boxes for inspection so any loss of item is blamed at BOC though it might have been the employees of the freight-forwarder who took the items. Who do you go after? Who becomes responsible?
How can BOC allay the fear of looting when in the history of BOC, inspectors are one of the most corrupt officials in the government? Some people have suggested that CCTV cameras can keep a watchful eye on these inspections but who wants to go to the process of bureaucracy when one complains about missing items on their boxes? Shouldn’t there be a better way of conducting inspections by using X-ray machines instead of “random” inspections? In the first place, why target small boxes sent by OFWs when the Philippine ports are gateways for big smugglers of rice, sugar, imported goods, gas and cars which are worth billions in taxes if caught by BOC. Even garbage from other countries gets through without inspection from BOC so why put a hand in our balikbayan boxes when you can’t even properly implement a system to catch large scale illegal smugglers.
How can OFWs entrust you with their balikbayan boxes when the BOC stinks of malaise and corruption. Clean up your act and have some credibility before you impose anything on these hard-earned boxes.
“Qatar today officially launches one of its most “significant” labour reforms to guarantee migrant workers’ wages.
The Wage Protection System (WPS) aims to ensure that migrant labourers, many working on 2022 World Cup-related projects, receive their pay on time.
Under the new system, workers will be paid either twice a month or monthly, and the wages electronically transferred direct to their bank accounts.
Failure to pay salaries on time, especially for blue-collar workers, has been a complaint voiced by some rights groups against companies in the state.” – Gulf Times
This should be good news indeed for employees who don’t receive their payments on time. Those who are employed by smaller companies or even those who work at engineering companies typically face this problem. You work and toll throughout the month, expecting that you’ll get paid on time but when the end of the month arrives, you don’t get your money or your check and your bank account stays close to empty.
I myself experienced when I was working as a consultant for Saudi Aramco years before. Since we are hired by a 3rd party company to work for Aramco, it’s the contracting company who pays our salary, which should be at the end of the month. The first few month were ok and we were paid without any delays, but then slowly, the delays became days, and then weeks. It didn’t affect me much since I have some extra savings but it is frustrating. How much more for people who depend on receiving their salaries on a specific day of the month to pay bills, arrears or as part of their monthly budget.
I am not really sure how the inspectors of Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs could monitor all businesses here in Qatar and implement the Wage Protection System in Qatar. Would it mean that any registered business should submit a list of all their employees? What if they have say 1,000 employees but only submit 500 names on the list, is that a possible loophole?
Lastly, this doesn’t really cover the thousands of people employed as household help and suffer the same delayed payment, or even non-payment, of salary due to them by their employers. If the Qatar Government wants to succeed in this initiative, they should start with the recruitment agencies and monitor all incoming workers coming through these agencies and verify the contracts agreed and signed by the employee and the employer. People who are recruited by these agencies are sometimes given a contract that covers the job they are to be doing and compensation but when they are passed to the employers, none of the agreed and signed details of the contract are followed; a sales person turns into a maid and the agreed 2000QR salary becomes 800QR. If this issue is closely monitored by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs along with the Wage Protection System, and in which it covers not only registered businesses but any worker employed through the recruiting agency, then this should truly be a step ahead on the right direction towards positive reforms in Qatar labor.
If you have ever applied for a Philippine Passport at the Philippine Embassy in Qatar, I’m sure you would have been frustrated at how the process works. Aside from a cramped space and long queue to get your photo taken, you have to make it a point to keep checking and calling the embassy if your passport is already available for pick up.
This is just annoying and I am sure that the Philippine Embassy gets inundated by calls from people just to ask if their passports have already arrived from the Philippines. Mind you, once you have applied for your passport, the usual waiting time, as advised by the Philippine Embassy, is 45 days. Since they took your phone number when you applied, wouldn’t it just be easier for them to send a generic text message to those people whose passports are already available instead of spending time answering the phone, then checking a list?
Then there is the Philippine Embassy Doha Facebook page (DohaPhilEmbassy) where they post an image of a list of names. I actually called the embassy last June to ask for an update regarding our passports which we have applied more than 45 days before. After so many attempts without my call being answered, someone must have been irritated with all the ringing and answered my call. He immediately referred me to check their Facebook page after asking for an update regarding our passports. I wanted to know if he would still help me if I told him I don’t have access to Facebook (as other people who applied would not have access as well) and so I lied. I told him I don’t use Facebook. I was glad that he asked for my name and checked his list, only to confirm that the passports have not arrived yet.
Claiming the passport in the Philippine Embassy is another issue for most Filipinos. The embassy opens Sundays to Thursdays, 8:00 am – 12:00 pm and 1:00 pm – 3:30 pm and releases passports till 4:00 P.M. Just looking at that schedule is an issue. They very well know that these are the usual working hours in Qatar and some find it difficult to get approval from their bosses to leave their work to get their passport. Those who don’t have cars have to pay at least 50QR to a taxi service to get them to and fro the Philippine Embassy in Jelaiah Area.
Hopefully, my ranting above is already moot. It has been announced that QPost will now provide courier service to deliver passports to Filipinos in Qatar. The delivery system will make it convenient for Filipinos to get hold of their passports and lessen footprint traffic in our Embassy. I am not sure yet if this is already being implemented but delivery should cost an extra QR25. A bit high but if it saves you the time and effort of going to the Embassy and then it should be worth it. What do you think?
St. No. 860, Zone 68,
State of Qatar
P.O. Box No. 24900
(+974) 4483 1585
Ext 23 (Visa)
Ext 26, 38 (Passport)
Ext 29 (Processing)
Ext 35 (Releasing)
Ext 37 (Marriage, Birth, Death,Travel Document, NBI)
For more information:
I know by now, family and friends are wondering whatever happened to the San Juan Year End Letter, a tradition that we have started for our family and friends since 2002. There have been a lot of gatherings and parties to attend to this holiday season and before we knew it, New Year’s Eve came without a Year End Letter. However, as in all traditions, it has to be done no matter what so we’re trying our best to cook something up with this little adage “It’s better late than never” at the back of our heads.
We received news early January that Xianelle has topped the EXPLORE Exam among all the TAP students in Qatar Academy. With this, she was offered a scholarship to attend the C-Mites (Carnegie Mellon Institute for Talented Elementary and Secondary Students) Summer Program at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in July. She was offered the same scholarship last year which we turned down. This time we had decided that we would not pass the opportunity.
In June, while attending Xianelle’s “Promotion” ceremony to Grade 6 (Middle School), we were given another surprise when she received the Academic Achievement Award (in her class). This accolade was deemed to be the highest award that any student can receive in his/her entire academic life in Qatar Academy Primary School. We were ecstatic! You can view the awarding at http://youtu.be/3Vz6EoHM_kA
July came and the trip to Pittsburgh went smoothly. Since I decided to stay in Doha while Xianelle and Mavis went to Pittsburgh for the trip, the two had an amazing mother-daughter time for 2 weeks. They explored the streets of Pittsburgh, went to museums and other famous landmarks, sampled every tasty morsel that they could get their hands on (Murray Ave. Grill, Five Guys Burgers, Cioppino, Meats and Potatoes, Primanti Bros., and more) , and shopped till my pockets bled.
They also had some funny and unforgettable experiences to bring home with them; being left by a bus going to the Outlet mall in which they had to wait for another hour before the next bus arrived, Mavis buying shoes thinking that she got a humongous discount by paying only 80QR a pair but then realized she was paying 80 US dollars and not in Qatari riyals so she had to quickly return back the items 10 minutes after buying them, and having the worst service food ever at EatnPark.
24 hours after landing back in Doha, we flew to the Philippines to be with our families whom we miss for the most part of the year. Nothing beats being with family. We consider it such a blessing to having the opportunity to spend time back home with our loved ones. Vacation in the Philippines, as always, is a mix of food binging, visiting the malls and cinemas, more travelling and just spending time with family.
We went to Coron, Palawan late July as I have always dreamt of going to Coron. It didn’t disappoint! It has got the most spectacular views we’ve ever seen; clear, blue waters and lagoons, magnificent rock formations, and snorkeling sites for the eyes to feast on. As always, the mermaid (Xianelle) and the Merman (Me) spent hours just snorkeling in the water, marveling at the different sea creatures below. Mavis was the scaredy-cat in the ocean as ever as she had to make do with snorkeling by the boat. She was even bested by my mom, who at 64, was able to spend quality minutes snorkeling with the help of our boatman!
In August, we decided to give out some school supplies to a class in Sitio Target Elementary School. The school provides classes to Aetas, indigenous people who live in scattered, isolated mountainous parts of Luzon. We brought notebooks, pens, pencils, crayons, rulers and other school items. As it was their first time to see water color palettes, they thought of them as makeup, but Xianelle was happy to show them how to use properly. Hopefully, we could donate more this coming year as we saw how much help is actually needed to run such school. We salute the dedicated teachers who have to trek each day, rain or shine, just to teach these children.
As with last year, we also went to “Munting Tahanan ng Nazareth” in Mabalacat, Pampanga which serves as a home to abandoned, and disabled and special children. We brought some basic supplies as recommended by the caretakers like soap, detergent bars, laundry powder, disinfectants, soap, and shampoo. “Munting Tahanan ng Nazareth” relies solely on donations so these necessities are sure to help their cause.
Mavis and Xianelle got to spend the rest of their Philippine holiday with Mavis’ side of the family. Although this time it was minus her Dad and her sister Mariah who, at that time, had to leave for a short singing stint in Belgium. Although the first few weeks were about enjoying and travelling, it wasn’t as rosy as expected as my mother-in-law got seriously sick. Mavis even had to extend their vacation to be with her mom upon her operation. We were glad that God for helped us get through it and with lots of prayers from everyone in the family and our friends, her mom’s health has gotten better and will hopefully continue to do so.
We were back in each other’s arms by mid-September and easily got back into our daily routines.
Christmas holiday was spent with friends, attending gatherings, parties and hosting them as well. One of the busiest ones we’ve had so far but can’t complain of the company of friends. We only wish that we could have spent it with our families back home as well.
Year 2014 has still been a wonderful year for us and our families even with the bumps that came our way. We’re hoping that the year ahead will be a prosperous and a truly be a meaningful one, not just for us but also for all of those who are close to us. And may we all be able to surpass all the trials and stumbling blocks that come our way with hope and faith. We pray and hope that the New Year will continue to bring hope and God’s wondrous blessings for us all. Till our next meeting!
The San Juan’s of Doha
Tian, Mavis and Xianelle
Saw Amazing Spiderman 2 yesterday afternoon at Villagio. Honestly, I’m not that impressed. The film was able to depict and show Peter Parker’s witty-side as he appears on the drawn pages of Marvel’s comic books. Without giving out spoilers, the main underlying premise of the film was actually good and strengthened Peter and Gwen’s relationship. However, having Electro as the main villain was quite a disconnect to the characters of the film itself and was painfully interspersed with Parkers’ personal issues. Thus, the film achieves some highs but can’t seem to sustain it throughout. People expect continuous action or at least an ascending dash to the climax. I admit that I almost fell asleep on some parts. I would have wanted a villain who was more invested personally with Parker/Spidey. This was what was missing.
I do understand the comparisons between a Marvel Studios produced movie and this movie from Sony. Marvel Studios, its writers, now have a fair understanding of that balance between the story and that wow factor. Sadly, Sony dwelled on the story but failed on the ‘Wow’. It failed to connect the antagonist to the protagonist failing to make a movie that would have been enjoyable throughout.
Should you watch it on the cinema? Spidey’s swinging from building to building is something to see on the big screen. Other than that, you could always wait for the blu-ray and watch it at home. It’s not a movie I’d rewatch again soon.