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Leave balikbayan boxes alone

MANILA (Agencies) : “By opening those boxes they are exposing the hard-earned goods to abuse,” Bishop Ruperto Santos, the chairperson of the Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People, said in response to an announcement by the Bureau of Customs that it plans to open and tax what is known as balikbayan boxes that migrant workers send back home to their families.

The boxes have always been a tax-free import, a tradition that goes back to the earliest days of the labour export programme set up by then-president, Ferdinand Marcos.

While the Customs Bureau cites misrepresentation on the customs declaration forms attached to the boxes and says that they could be used to smuggle contraband into the country, Bishop Santos says the real worry is pilfering by Customs officials.

“How will we know nothing will be taken? That something is planted that could be used against the sender?” Bishop Santos said in a statement on August 21, UCAN reported.

“Those things inside are for personal use, not for business. They are not taxable, why tax them?” the bishop questioned.

He pointed out that the government is showing a complete lack of concern for overseas workers.

“Migrant workers are victims, because of the government’s callous and cruel plan. The government has failed to protect their rights and now even cargo boxes are not being spared,” the bishop said.

CBCPNews reported that he said the balikbayan box fiasco shows the Aquino administration’s lack of concern for the overseas Filipino workers.

Bishop Santos added that the government has failed to respond to problems facing migrant workers and the issue on balikbayan boxes is like adding insult to injury.

“The Aquino government lacks compassion and respect for overseas Filipino workers,” Bishop Santos said.

In addition to the inspections, the Customs Bureau says that it wants to increase storage and handling fees and even tax some of the contents, which would increase the amount families have to pay to receive them.

“What is the reason and rationale for this? Where will the tax revenue go?” Connie Bragas-Regalado, the chairperson of Migrante, questioned.

The Commissioner for Customs, Alberto Lina, said inspections have become necessary due to ongoing violations.

“There were attempts by some importers to smuggle goods, like clothes, bags and perfume using the balikbayan boxes,” Lina said.

The customs official said the government is planning to increase clearing fees for all containers—including those containing balik-
bayan boxes—entering Philippine ports from about US$2,000 ($15,500) per container to around US$2,600 ($20,150).

The tax for consolidated shipments might also increase from US$1,700 ($13,175) to US$3,850 ($29,837) in the coming months.

Amid the furor over the policy, the president of The Philippines, Noynoy Aquino, put a hold on the physical inspection of packages from abroad on August 24.

But Bishop Santos was not impressed, saying that he did it only because of the public outcry.

“They created their own problem and have shown they do not feel the pulse and heart of the overseas Filipino workers,” Bishop Santos said.

“If we did not raise our voice and concerned citizens did not protest, the government might have pursued it,” he continued.

However, he said that the real question is what happened to the 145 million peso ($26 million) budget set aside for the purchase of X-ray equipment to check the contents of the boxes.

The bishop said that Aquino must account for the machines, which should have been bought only a few years ago, when controversy over the balikbayan boxes first raised its head.


“Aquino must investigate the missing 145 million peso budget for the X-ray machines,” Bishop Santos said.