BOC workers face P1-M fine, 12 years for pilfering balikbayan boxes
Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - January 31, 2016 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Bureau of Customs employees face longer prison sentences and higher fines if they are proven to have pilfered balikbayan boxes or extorted money from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in exchange for the release of hand-carried or shipped cargo, Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto said yesterday.

The higher penalties are contained under the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA) that will be soon sent to President Aquino for his signature, he said.

The CMTA, which increases the tax-exempt value of each balikbayan box to P150,000, also provides “stronger sanctions against dishonest government personnel who will use balikbayan boxes for personal profit.”

Recto referred to Section 1431 of the CMTA, which provides the penalty of six years to 12 years’ imprisonment and a fine of P500,000 to P1 million to government employees found guilty of extorting money from balikbayans bringing home pasalubong or gifts.

Additional penalties include the forfeiture of all benefits due from service in government as well as perpetual disqualification from hold public office, exercising the right to vote and participating in any public election.

He said the minimum sentence for stealing from balikbayan boxes of OFWs was increased from one year to six years. The maximum sentence is 12 years under the CMTA.

“And before, the maximum fine is P50,000. Under the CMTA, the minimum is P500,000 and the ceiling is P1 million,” Recto explained.

He said Section 1431 of the CMTA “is a long list of punishable acts,” which must be avoided by those who will implement the CMTA.

If applied to balikbayan boxes, these would also cover tampering of balikbayan boxes, demanding other or greater sums of levies on pasalubong cargo, receiving any fee, compensation, or reward except as by law prescribed, for the performance of any duty; and neglecting to give receipts, as required by law, for any sum collected in the performance of duty.

“So officials should think twice before they decide to prey on OFWs sending or bringing in balikbayan boxes. The law provides protection to our modern heroes,” Recto said.

“The proposed law’s message is clear. If we cannot protect our OFWs and balikbayans, we have no business to be in government,” the senator added.

Earlier, Recto hailed the approval by the bicameral conference committee on the CMTA of the salient provisions of his pet bill, dubbed as Balikbayan Box Law (BBL) or Senate Bill 2913.

Recto filed the bill last August after a public outcry against a BOC decision to open balikbayan boxes based on outdated regulations.

Recto’s “BBL” was later incorporated into Section 800 of the CMTA, which allows the sending of balikbayan boxes a maximum of three times in a calendar year, provided that the value of each shipment shall not exceed P150,000.

But for those who will abuse this privilege, the CMTA increases penalties for those who will use the balikbayan box in transporting “dutiable, dangerous, and unlawful goods,” Recto said.

ACIRC BALIKBAYAN BALIKBAYAN BOX LAW BOXES BUREAU OF CUSTOMS CMTA CUSTOMS MODERNIZATION AND TARIFF ACT PRESIDENT AQUINO RECTO SENATE BILL SENATE PRESIDENT PRO-TEMPORE RALPH RECTO
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