#balikbayanbox of love: Migrant group wants Customs report on contrabands made public

Aug. 26, 2015

DAVAO CITY – A migrant’s group wants the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to make public the results of their random inspection on “balikbayan” boxes allegedly containing illegal contraband.

“We demand that the BOC make public a complete report on the cited cases of illegal contraband and what steps were taken to apprehend and prosecute big-time smugglers, including those within the BOC,” said Connie Bragas-Regalado, chairperson of Migrante Partylist.

In a press release Monday, the BOC said “gun parts, ammunition and gun accessories were found in 7 balikbayan boxes” and that “81,529 tablets of anti-anxiety drugs were misdeclared as food supplements in November 2014.”

The press release also said that “413 Casio G-Shock watches, and even a custom Harley Davidson Chopper motorcycle of a Hollywood scriptwriter in 2011, among other high end car parts, were also delivered through balikbayan boxes.”

But Bragas-Regalado said they also demand that the BOC “make public a full report on the number of boxes they opened and examined recently, and the result of the random inspections.”

She said the BOC should “compensate” and issue a “public apology” to owners of “wrongfully opened and ransacked balikbayan boxes.”

The BOC said Overseas Filipino Workers send 7.2 million boxes to the country each year.

Migrante said the #balikbayanbox “is the closest overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) can get to their loved ones while they are away from home.”

“Only an OFW and his or her family can understand how even the most humble balikbayan box contains the most personalized translation of love and affection for its recipients,” said Bragas-Regalado.

She said “the least the government could do is to make sure that this simple vehicle of love is not burdened by money-making schemes at the expense of OFWs and their families.”

Bayan Muna Partylist defended the OFW practice of sending #balikbayanboxes in a resolution they filed before congress.

The resolution directed the House Committee on Overseas Workers Affairs to investigate the BOC policy of opening Balikbayan Boxes to check the supposed smuggling by OFWs.

Bayan Muna said the balikbayan box of OFWS is for “consumption of immediate family members and relatives.”

The partylist group said that if a “sale” occurs it is because some items are “leftovers” while some were bought by the OFWs because of informal “bilin” or “pakisuyo”  (favors) by family members or friends for items not easily available in the Philippines.

Bayan Muna said other methods such as the mandatory labeling of the contents of packages with scanning the boxes with x-ray machines “eliminate any need to tamper with the packaging to inspect the contents of said boxes.”

The group said there have been numerous complaints of “pilferage” of balikbayan boxes which the BOC have not yet been able to explain.

The President recently told the BOC to stop the physical inspection.

“First, there will be no random or arbitrary physical inspection of balikbayan boxes. Moving forward, all containers of balikbayan boxes should undergo mandatory x-ray and K-9 examination–at no cost to the sender or the OFW,” said the BOC.

The BOC said only “in cases where there are derogatory findings from the X-ray or K-9 examination will there be a physical inspection of goods.”

The Bureau said they will request that an Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) representative or a designated officer of an OFW Association be present in the event of a physical inspection.

“We encourage the public to submit videos and photographic evidence of illegal acts to the Commissioner of Customs,” said the BOC who promised to prosecute erring employees.

The Department of Finance (DOF) in its latest “Tax Watch” asked the public to “Help the BOC and Congress in pushing for an increase of the threshold of taxable imported goods (or de minimis value) from P10 in duties, taxes, and charges to P10,000 in value.”

Migrante said the move was an “initial victory” of OFWs who took to social media their grievance against the policy.

However, Migrante said reports reached them that the Bureau of Customs plans to increase clearing fees for all containers entering Philippines ports to as much as P100,000 to P120,000.

“The first increase of P40,000 per container was imposed last July 27, while another wave of increase is reportedly scheduled to take effect on October 1,” said Bragas-Regalado.

She said freight forwarders and stakeholders in the balikbayan box industry told them that no consultations were held, nor was there an official memorandum to announce the new round of increases.

“We demand an investigation into this new fee imposition. What is the reason and rationale for this increase? Why was it imposed despite strong opposition from forwarders and OFWs alike? Where will the added cost go?” she said. (davaotoday.com)

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