The Philippine Bureau of Customs (BOC) is determined to fight off smugglers by checking balikbayan boxes sent to the Philippines by Filipino workers and migrants abroad.
Customs chief Alberto Lina explained that the random physical check of the packages is simply a strict compliance of the law.
However, following criticisms, Pres. Aquino ordered BOC to revise its procedures and stop random physical inspection of the balikbayan boxes. Instead, every box shall undergo an X-ray scanning and will only be opened if image analysis of the box is suspicious.
Boxes without violation are provisionally released to allow continuous processing.
To prevent any future delays in balikbayan boxes, do not include any of these items in your package:
Food products such as cheese, meat
Meats, Livestock and poultry
Fish and wildlife
Fruits and vegetables
Fluids and perishable food items
Trophies, gold, Haitian
Cultural artifacts and pottery
Used clothing or shoes of commercial quantity (Ukay-ukay in bales / boxes)
Plants and Animals
Dog and cat fur
Plants and seed
Prohibited drugs and drug paraphernalia
Trademarked and copyrighted articles
Pirated items (DVD, VCD, tapes, etc)
Dismantled Auto Parts (Chop chop)
Automobiles (any parts)
Gambling Related Items
Machines, apparatus and other devices used in gambling
Lottery and sweepstakes tickets except authorized by the government
Firearms/Items inciting acts against the government
Firearms, Explosives & Guns, including
Defense articles or items with military or proliferation applications
Game and hunting
Animal hide drums
Merchandise from embargoed countries
The list is according to Section 101 of the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines.
De Lina reiterated that the tax exemption for balikbayan boxes of returning Filipino workers is PHP10,000 and not $500 and below. Explaining that the exchange rate when this was mandated into law was $1=PHP7.
In addition, items in packages sent by non-returning Filipino workers should be assessed for duty tax plus 12% VAT.
Empathizing with Filipino Migrant Workers:
An interview with a migration anthropologist said that the reaction of Filipino workers abroad about BOC’s move is understandable. They feel a “diasporic intimacy” in sending packages home.
To many parents abroad, sending balikbayan packages could be considered “long distance mothering” or parenting. The items they send are their way to control their household by making “consumption decisions.”
On the other hand, the BOC should still resolve issues with Overseas Worker Welfare Administration (OWWA) regarding their role in overseeing inspections.
OWWA also complained about BOC’s measures and cited an instance where due to a custom police tip, a balikbayan box was opened and searched but nothing was found. OWWA believes an apology is not sufficient.
The BOC together with OWWA agreed that the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act that has been pending in congress since 2013 would be able to solve the problems regarding balikbayan boxes.
For one, it will raise the tax-exempt limit imposed on the balikbayan box.
In addition, BOC asked POEA for a list of registered Filipino workers abroad so that their balikbayan boxes may be expedited.
BOC is also addressing the issue of bribery or “tara” that had long plagued the bureau.
Special thanks to TheNational.ae for the main image.