Customs to impose tighter rules for balikbayan boxes

Kathleen Martin (The Philippine Star) - August 17, 2015 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Bureau of Customs said yesterday it may impose tougher measures on balikbayan boxes for fear that these tax-free packages are being used by traders to smuggle goods into the country.

“The existing rules are obsolete and we may have to reassess our coordination and processes with consolidators for stricter and improved compliance,” Customs Commissioner Alberto Lina said in a statement.

“Our spot checks from several warehouses show how misconstrued the rules may have become. People are sending in used clothing, home appliances and items of the same kind that can well be used for commercial purposes,” he said.

Lina recounted that some items inside these balikbayan boxes could be considered as smuggled goods due to non-compliance with the Philippine Tariff and Customs Code.

Some packages were found to be “spilling with undervalued items and under-declared contents” during the bureau’s spot checks, he said.

Balikbayan boxes are duty and tax-free packages designed for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) sending home gifts to their families, the BOC said.

However, it should always be noted that these packages have limitations, such as contents not exceeding $500 in value, Lina said.

“Canned goods, grocery items and other household effects must not exceed a dozen a kind, while apparel whether used or new must not exceed three yards per cut,” Lina said.

He added that one consignment per sender during a one-month period is allowed.

These packages should also not contain any banned or regulated firearms and ammunition, prohibited drugs, pornographic material and gambling material.

“Home appliances are not allowed unless these are consigned to returning Filipino residents and overseas contract workers. We will seize these prohibited shipments and revoke registrations of forwarders or consolidators if we find any violations,” Lina said.

He further said examination of the shipments is allowed and if a receiver finds any items missing from the packages, he may report this to the proper authorities.

Congressional probe sought

Meanwhile, a group of OFWs immediately sought an investigation into the reported plan of the BOC to impose additional taxes on balikbayan boxes and other consolidated shipments.

Connie Bragas-Regalado, Migrante party-list chair, said Congress must look into this.

According to Regalado, Migrante has received information that the BOC plans to increase clearing fees for all containers entering Philippine ports to as much as P100,000 to P120,000.

She reported that the first increase was actually imposed last July and another will reportedly be implemented this October.

“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?” Regalado asked.

She said the least the government could do to help the millions of Filipino workers abroad is to stop any money-making schemes that will affect them and their families.

“Reports from freight forwarders and stakeholders in the balikbayan box industry showed that no consultations were held, nor was there an official memorandum to announce the new round of increases,” Regalado said.

Freight forwarders earlier complained that the BOC has approved an increase of taxes covering all shipments in a consolidated container from P80,000 to P180,000.

The imposition of additional taxes on consolidated shipments should be thoroughly investigated by Congress when legislators hear the agency’s proposed 2016 budget, Regalado said.

She said the additional taxes, which could translate to P325 per balikbayan box, would surely be passed on by the freight forwarders to OFWs. – With Mayen Jaymalin, Evelyn Macairan


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