Do not touch our Balikbayan Boxes

by: xtian001

In: Filipino Community | Middle East | News | Philippines | Qatar

23 Aug 2015

“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.[citation needed] 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:

  1. Contents of the balikbayan box must not exceed US$500 (current rate of php23,000)  Php10,000 in value
  2. 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!
  3. Apparel/clothes, whether used of not, must not exceed 3 yards per cut.
  4. 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.

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