BOC told: Justify plan to inspect balikbayan boxes

Marvin Sy - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has joined the public outrage over the plan of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to conduct random inspections of balikbayan boxes, saying it is a form of harassment of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

Marcos said the BOC should justify its plan before the Senate committee on finance during the deliberations on its proposed budget for 2016.

“Let them defend themselves during the budget deliberations. Specifically, I would like to know how many big-time smugglers have they managed to put behind bars during the five years under this administration,” he said.

Marcos noted that the balikbayan box system used by OFWs to send personal effects and other goods to their loved ones in the Philippines started during the administration of his father, the late President Ferdinand Marcos, when Section 105 of the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines was amended to provide duty- and tax-free privileges to OFWs.

He condemned the planned random inspections by the BOC of these balikbayan boxes, which was said to be part of the agency’s anti-smuggling campaign.

“For every OFW, a balikbayan box is the equivalent of his or her love letter to a spouse and the rest of the family. Every item inside that box was bought with a specific person and purpose in mind, bought with the hard-earned money of our modern-day heroes. So if a single item there gets lost, can you imagine how that feels to an OFW who invested so much emotion and money just to get those goods home?” Marcos said.

He said Customs Commissioner Alberto Lina should consult with stakeholders first.

“Commissioner Lina, you are a public servant. It is your duty to consult with stakeholders first before embarking on any draconian measure that would turn their lives upside-down. You seem bent on bullying our OFWs while turning a blind eye on the large-scale smuggling that goes on in nearly all ports across the country,” he said.

Marcos expressed belief that the BOC is undertaking this program in an effort to make up for its revenue collection deficits.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto also aired his concern about the plan of the BOC because of the possibility of items contained in balikbayan boxes being lost or stolen during inspection.

Recto said the BOC should install closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras to monitor the opening of balikbayan boxes.

“Opening of balikbayan boxes should be recorded on CCTV so that if a consignee complains about missing items, the BOC can show proof that no anomaly took place during the inspection,” he said.

Lifestyle check

Vice President Jejomar Binay called for the conduct of a lifestyle check on BOC personnel as he criticized the agency’s plan to impose higher duties and taxes on balikbayan boxes.

A former presidential adviser for OFW concerns, Binay said the BOC should train its eyes on big-time smugglers conniving with its personnel if it really wants to address the problem of smuggling.

“They should start with the BOC personnel who close their eyes whenever there are shipping containers containing smuggled items that pass in front of them,” he said.

“They should start a lifestyle check on BOC personnel to know who owns huge houses and expensive vehicles despite their meager salary,” he added.

The Vice President described the BOC plan as another reflection of the administration’s insensitivity and callousness toward the people.

“Instead of expressing gratitude to OFWs who support our economy, they would impose stricter rules on the little things that they could provide for their families,” he said.

Binay scoffed at the reasoning of the BOC that balikbayan boxes are being used by groups to smuggle expensive items into the country.

He urged the administration not to pass on to OFWs its failure to collect taxes and curb smuggling activities.

For his part, Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza urged Lina to withdraw his order to inspect balikbayan boxes as it will affect families of OFWs and promote corruption.

Atienza said Lina should not deprive OFWs and their families of the “simple joys of some goodies in their balikbayan boxes.”

“We owe our hardworking and productive countrymen a lot of gratitude for their taxes and remittances that are keeping the Philippine economy afloat. They should be accorded privileges and support – not the usual Customs harassment and razzle-dazzle,” he said.

“Surely the new Lina doctrine on opening up OFWs’ balikbayan boxes sent to their families is no way to treat them, considering that we refer to them as our modern-day heroes,” he said.

“I cannot support this intrusion into the hard-earned income of our OFWs. Stop this before it gets out of hand,” he added. – Janvic Mateo, Paolo Romero












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