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OFW group hits Customs rules on balikbayan boxes

A migrant rights group recently condemned Bureau of Custom’s latest memorandum on balikbayan boxes saying it is another “money-making” requirement. File photo

MANILA, Philippines — A migrant workers' rights group has condemned the Bureau of Customs' new guidelines on balikbayan boxes, calling the memorandum a “money-making” requirement.

Migrante International opposes latest order Customs Memorandum Order 04-2017, which requires balikbayan boxes to include an itemized list of all its contents and receipts of newly-puchased items in the box. Under the new rules, recipients of balikbayan boxes must show that they are relatives of the senders.

Particularly, the order requires sender to submit three copies of information sheets indicating the sender and Philippines-based recipients as well as shipment details. They should also submit supporting documents such as the biographical page of their Philippine passport, copy of invoice, and receipts of payment for the goods contained in the balikbayan box, if any.

Dual citizens sending balikbayan boxes to the Philippines must include proof of their dual citizenship.

BOC said there is no limit to the number of balikbayan boxes that OFWs can send per shipment provided that its total value should not be more than P150,000 in a calendar year.

The 22-page Customs Memorandum Order 04-2017 was signed by BOC Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon on Jan. 20, 2017.

BOC said it issued the directive "to adopt transparent custom rules reglations policeies procedures consistent with international standards and best practices and "to prevent revenue loss from possible abuse in the availment of the privilege on the tax and duty-exempt importation of balikbayan boxes."

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But Migrante said the order aims to justify tax impositions and other fund-generating requirements from OFWs and families.

“Itong mga taga-Customs, halatang walang malasakit at walang respeto sa mga OFW. Hindi ba nila alam na kasama sa sayang dulot ng balikbayan box ang surpresang dulot nito sa mga pamilya? Pati ba naman ito ay tatanggalin nila? Gusto nilang tanggalin ang saya ng OFW at pamilya sa pagpapadala at pagtanggap ng balikbayan box,” Migrante International spokesperson Arman Hernando said.

“Ang sabi pa ng BoC, wala raw dapat ikatakot ang mga OFW kung wala naman silang itinatago. Ang sagot dito ng mga OFW, bakit kami ang pinag-iinitan ninyo? Hernando added.

OFWs: Balikbayan boxes are sacred

Hernando said the balikbayan box is sacred to OFWs and that migrant workers will not smuggle any contraband in boxes sent home to their families.

Sending balikbayan boxes is a tradition for many OFWs and Filipinos who have moved abroad. They usually contain gifts, which Hernando described as the “most personalized translation of love and affection for its recipients.”

“Bakit kami ang pinagdidiskitahan ng gobyerno gayong hindi naman nila masawata ang mga malalaking iligal na smuggler at sindikato? Pawis at dugo ng mga OFW ang puhunan para mapuno ang bawat isang balikbayan box,” Hernando said.

“The least the government could do is to make sure that this simple vehicle of love is not burdened by unnecessary requirements and money-making schemes at the expense of OFWs and their families,” he added.

In 2015, OFWs also opposed a BOC directive on their balikbayan boxes. The agency ordered random inspection of balibayan boxes to check for smuggled goods which were identified as “undervalued items” and “undeclared contents.”

OFWs sent a petition to stop the opening of balikbayan boxes or packages they send back to the country. — Rosette Adel

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