MANILA – Senators on Sunday asked the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to explain its new regulation to randomly open the balikbayan boxes particularly those sent by the overseas Filipino workers.
“It was only yesterday when our OFWs complained about their boxes taking as much as six months before reaching their family when we had the problem of port congestion. Now, they have to deal with this unclear policy of opening and tampering with their boxes by the BOC,” said Sen. Cynthia Villar.
Villar said she has been getting complaints from OFWs who found the BOC directive puzzling.
BOC commissioner Alberto Lina said BOC is tightening its watch on balikbayan boxes reaching the country’s ports.
Lina said spot checks on warehouses revealed balikbayan boxes containing items that could be used for commercial purposes.
“We should not let this practice by the unscrupulous few affect the privilege enjoyed by OFWs. Sending balikbayan boxes has been the tradition of Filipinos who want to stay connected to their loved ones. It is also a manifestation of the Filipino value of sharing their blessings,” Villar said.
BOC claims that some P50 million are lost to technical smuggling and that OFWs may be abusing the balikbayan box privilege to send high-value items for commercial purposes.
Some 400,000 balikbayan boxes reach the country every month, more during Christmas season.
Senator Grace Poe said she will file a resolution to investigate the new measure that the BoC has put in place and the failure of the agency’s intelligence service to track down big-time smugglers.
Poe said the new regulation is an admission of the BOC’s dismal failure and ineptness to address smuggling.
“Certainly this new policy of imposing stricter examination of boxes containing the hard-earned pasalubong of our OFWs for their loved ones back home may only breed more opportunities for corruption in the BOC that inevitably results to higher freight payment by our OFWs for the goods they send,” Poe said.
The senator said the regulation is not a good way to treat our bagong bayani, whose P26 billion remittances annually have tremendously helped keep the Philippine economy afloat all these years.
To remove the motive to check shipped or mailed parcels for dutiable goods, Senator Ralph Recto, for his part, urged the government to triple to USD 1,500 the current allowed value of the contents of balikbayan box exempt from taxes.
”As of now, the BOC’s Memorandum Circular No. 7990 limits to USD 500 the value of every balikbayan box. This rate has been set 25 years ago in 1990,” Recto said.
Recto said raising the threshold of balikbayan box value “is a small thing compared to the Php2.28 trillion that they sent back home last year.”
Instead of opening the balikbayan boxes, Recto urged the BOC to acquire additional x-ray machines to monitor the contents of the boxes being entered into the country.
Recto said under the Customs bureau’s Php3.05 billion budget for 2015, “there’s Php26.2 million in intelligence funds, under ‘confidential’ and ‘extraordinary’ expenses.”