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BOC chief to meet with OFW groups over balikbayan boxes

Evelyn Macairan - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Smarting from public criticism of a plan to subject balikbayan boxes to physical inspection, Bureau  of Customs (BOC) Commissioner Alberto Lina is meeting next week with overseas Filipino workers (OFW) organizations in an effort to clear the air as well as give affected individuals greater opportunity to air their grievances.

Lina, currently in Cebu for an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting, has tentatively scheduled the meeting for Sept. 1 or 2.

About a dozen OFW organizations are expected to attend the gathering.

“Their concerns should be understood because they are the ones working (abroad),” Lina said in calling for the dialogue.

He urged Migrante International to attend the meeting and stressed he would not stop anyone from joining the group’s “zero remittance” day set for tomorrow.

The government stands to lose P3.1 billion in one day if the “zero remittance” drive pushes through tomorrow, Sen. Francis Escudero said, citing central bank data.

The BOC chief said one good thing that came out of the controversy was its having called the nation’s attention to the issues he had raised but which had fallen on deaf ears, like his support for higher tax exemptions for the contents of balikbayan boxes.

A measure has been filed by Sen. Ralph Recto seeking to increase the tax-exempt value of the contents of balikbayan box to $2,000 from the present $500.

“Anybody can attend (the dialogue). Everybody is welcome and we would have a dialogue with them to fix the problem. What would we accomplish if everyone would be hotheaded?” he added.

“What can I do if they were misinformed, or if they have their own opinion or politicized the whole issue? As for me, in the eyes of the people, in the eyes of God, what I am doing is in accordance with my mandate to do what is best for the country,” Lina said in response to the possibility that some workers would hold off sending remittances tomorrow.

The Customs chief said the balikbayan box issue is just one of the concerns he has to deal with. He said he has to make sure that security measures are strictly implemented to prevent the smuggling of weapons, ammunition and illegal drugs.

“If illegal drugs and ammunition manage to enter the country, what will our relatives say? They will blame Commissioner Lina for allowing these contraband goods inside the country and this would have a bigger impact” on the people, he added.

Aside from plans to install more x-ray machines and close circuit television (CCTV) cameras at BOC centers at ports and airports, Lina said they would also be asking other government agencies such as the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to lend some of their trained K-9 dogs to the BOC.

PCG spokesman Cmdr. Armand Balilo yesterday said that to his knowledge there has been no request from Lina for K-9 assistance.

“We are more than willing (to assist the BOC) if there is a request, we could arrange it. The command is willing to help in any way. The BOC and the PCG have had previous coordination in other areas,” Balilo added.

P3-B single day loss

With over $2.014 billion in remittances sent by OFWs per month, Escudero said the country’s single day loss if Migrante’s campaign were to push through is estimated at $67 million or P3.1 billion at P46.61 to a dollar exchange rate.

Citing data culled by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), personal remittances from OFWs in 2014 reached all-time high of $26.93 billion, which accounted for 8.5 percent of the gross domestic product last year.

In the first half of 2015, the BSP reported that personal remittances from OFWs grew by 6.2 percent to $12.7 billion from $11.9 billion in the same period last year.

“The OFWs play a major part in the Philippine economy and its sustainability, so I don’t understand why the BOC targets the OFWs in its anti-smuggling campaign,” Escudero said.

“This is not the way to treat our modern-day heroes. I say no to physical inspection of balikbayan boxes. The BOC should run after big-time smugglers,” he said.

“The proposed policy is anti-migrant and will only fuel serious backlash like a boycott on the remittances sent by OFWs,” he added.

Escudero said the BOC should put to good use its budget for surveillance and prevention of smuggling amounting to P540 million under the 2015 General Appropriations Act, to enhance the agency’s intelligence gathering capabilities.

He said President Aquino did the right thing when he stopped the BOC from implementing the regulation following complaints from netizens, and from OFWs and their families.

Reasonable

At Malacañang, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. expressed confidence that the OFWs would be reasonable in the face of calls for a remittance holiday.

He said President Aquino after all has already ordered the BOC to stop the random physical inspection of balikbayan boxes brought in by OFWs.

He said it’s every OFW’s personal decision to send money to their loved ones.

“To follow or not to follow, that is based on their reason and we believe that using reason, they will do what is best for the sake of their loved ones,” Coloma said.

Coloma also appealed to various sectors not to politicize the issue as the government has always been for OFWs.

Coloma said the government respects the rights and sentiments of OFWs, and is thankful for their contribution to the country’s economy.With Christina Mendez, Aurea Calica

ACIRC

ARMAND BALILO

ASIA-PACIFIC ECONOMIC COOPERATION

AT MALACA

AUREA CALICA

BANGKO SENTRAL

BOC

COLOMA

COMMISSIONER ALBERTO LINA

OFWS

PRESIDENT AQUINO

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