MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Customs (BOC) said Tuesday, August 25, it will follow “effective immediately” President Benigno Aquino III’s directive to stop the “physical” check of balikbayan boxes.
Following a meeting with Finance Secretary Cesar V. Purisima and Customs Commissioner Alberto “Bert” Lina, Aquino on the evening of August 24 ordered the BOC to stop doing physical inspections on balikbayan boxes, a statement from the Department of Finance (DOF) said.
“There will be no random or arbitrary physical inspection of balikbayan boxes. Moving forward, all containers of balikbayan boxes should undergo mandatory X-ray and K-9 examination – at no cost to the sender or the OFW (overseas Filipino workers),” the statement read. (READ: Aquino stops ‘physical’ check of balikbayan boxes)
In a statement Tuesday, Lina said the BOC will ensure the “necessary checks, balances, and [make sure] witnesses are present in the event that a physical inspection is made.”
He aded that the BOC will seek the help of freight forwarder companies to install their own X-ray machines in their warehouses, following specifications that Customs will require to expedite clearance of OFWs’ [overseas Filipino workers’] balikbayan boxes, “while at the same time protecting our borders from contraband and smuggled items.”
Lina added the BOC is already looking into ways of acquiring K9 units and additional CCTV cameras for its ports through emergency procurement.
Change of tone
Earlier on Monday, Lina went on media rounds to explain the BOC’s stricter implementation of random balikbayan box inspections.
He appealed to Filipinos who are sending or bringing items home to honestly declare them so the agency can collect appropriate taxes. (READ: Customs’ Bert Lina: Be honest, declare what’s in your #BalikbayanBox)
Lina said during a Rappler Talk interview on Monday, August 24, that Filipinos abroad should “declare honestly what’s the content of the boxes (and parcels). If we see the items, we’ll pass. If the value [of the items declared] is too high, we’ll tax them.”
As Aquino ordered the “no physical inspection” of balikbayan boxes, Lina is now enjoining the public to report Customs employees who commit unauthorized physical inspections of balikbayan boxes to submit photos and videos of these acts to firstname.lastname@example.org “with the necessary details so we can act on them.”
Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago filed on August 24 Senate Resolution No. 1534, in response to some 78,000 Filipinos who asked her via online petition platform Change.org to stop the BOC plan.
While acknowledging the BOC’s mandate to scrutinize all shipment arriving in the country, Santiago, in her resolution, said that the bureau must continue to improve its facilities, which should include equipment for non-intrusive scans. She urged the BOC to use X-ray machines and other technologies. (READ: Miriam eyes probe into balikbayan boxes inspection)
Push for Customs Modernization Act
Lina is also urging his colleagues in government to prioritize the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA) pending in Congress.
“So we can harmonize, modernize, and simplify our Customs procedures, superseding policies and procedures that have not been updated as far back as 1957,” Lina said.
Under CMTA, Lina noted that BOC has been pushing for the increase of the de minimis value, or the threshold value for taxable imported goods, from the current P10,000 ($214.06) in duties, taxes, and charges for the benefit of our OFW kababayans.”
Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto on Monday said he is set to file a proposed Balikbayan Box Law, which seeks to raise the tax-exempt value of the contents of a balikbayan box to $2,000. (READ: Recto’s balikbayan box bill to increase tax exemption to $2,000)
On Tuesday, Recto said Aquino’s order to the BOC to stop physical, random inspection of balikbayan boxes is “very laudable and time-on-target.”
“But what the OFWs want is not temporary relief but permanent protection against whimsical search and seizures of their balikbayan boxes,” Recto said.
Senator Juan Edgardo Angara is also seeking to increase the ceiling of tax- and duty-free items and goods from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) from the present P10,000 ($214.06) to P150,000 ($3211.46). (READ: Angara seeks higher tax exemption for balikbayan box items)
Angara also said the proposed CMTA provides for a less intrusive examination of goods brought into the country, as it aims to increase the outdated amount of fines and penalties on misdeclaration or underdeclaration of goods under the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines. – Rappler.com
$1 = P46.71