Customs chief: ‘Amend law, modernize BOC’
MANILA, Philippines - Amid calls for resignation and major reforms in his agency, Bureau of Customs Commissioner Albert Lina on Friday, August 28, called on Congress to “update” and “modernize” the country’s law on tariffs.
“The BOC is implementing…the customs and tariff law of the Philippines. But we understand that there is an urgent need to modernize and update these laws and processes…so we’ll be able to improve our delivery of services to the entire nation, especially to the benefit of our OFWs,” Lina said in a press conference.
According to Lina, the current system of the BOC is still based on the amendment of the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines by Executive Order (EO) 206, enacted 1987 by then President Corazon Aquino.
“The role of the BOC is 2-fold - to assess lawful revenues (and) to prevent smuggling while enforcing tarrif and customs law…We cannot do anything about the current taxes…So we are calling on our friends in Congress to prioritize the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA),” he added.
OFW Partylist Representative Roy Seneres Sr added that the law needs to be reviewed given the current context of the government.
“When she amended the law, the system of government then, for a while, was revolutionary. That’s why her EO was made into law immediately…But in our current context, an EO is not enough. It should be legislation,” the representative said, adding that he will suggest amendments to the law to add more privileges to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
‘Government lenient to OFWs’
"The contents of a balikbayan box must not exceed US$500.00 in value. Canned goods, grocery items and other household effects must not exceed a dozen a kind, while apparel, whether used or new, must not exceed 3 yards per cut. Only one consignment per sender during a one-month period is allowed," Lina earlier reminded Filipinos abroad.
While the agency later explained that the reminder is a deterrent to smuggling and not meant to single out OFWs, it didn’t sit well with Filipinos abroad and advocacy groups who called the BOC’s system “dictatorial and arbitrary.”
Seneres, defending Lina, explained Monday that the government had already been lenient with balikbayan boxes.
“No president ever implemented by past administrations because we honor the sacrifice, the very big contribution of OFWs to the economy. The government turned a blind eye in recognition of our OFWs,” the lawmaker said.
He added the Lina merely wanted to implement the law. “I actually told him not to break the leniency because it’s already Christmas season. He actually wanted to suggest to the president to postpone the law’s implementation.”
Lina earlier said that he will not heed different groups’ calls for his resignation. “I serve at the pleasure of the President,” he said.
The president’s directive
Because of the growing online clamor, President Benigno Aquino III on Monday, August 24, stopped the physical inspection of balikbayan boxes. (READ: How Aquino caved in to online rage vs balikbayan box rules)
“All containers of balikbayan boxes should undergo mandatory X-ray and K-9 examination – at no cost to the sender or the OFW," a statement from the Department of Finance (DOF) said.
According to Lina, customs is now finding ways to improve its systems. All containers arriving in the port of Manila now undergo x-ray, instead of manual inspection. The agency is also looking for K9 units to train to cover all airports of the country to improve security.
“We want to tell our OFWs that we are listening to make sure that we move forward in this issue together,” Lina added.
‘Balikbayan box personal’
OFW groups representatives present in the dialogue welcomed the new directives.
“Balikbayan boxes are how OFWs connect to their families. It’s very personal. That’s why the issue blew out of proportion when you seemingly targeted OFWs,” Loreto Soriano, an OFW advocate said.
Some advocates, however, decried the alleged corruption in the customs, citing cases of OFWs’ balikbayan boxes being opened and legal items being seized.
While Lina said they will look into the issue, he also asked help from OFW agencies and groups to help the customs achieve the change it wants to pursue.
Under the president’s directive, the BOC is asked to request the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) for a representative or a designated officer from an OFW organization to be present when opening a balikbayan box is deemed necessary.
“I’m asking OWWA and other groups to send representatives to my office so we can pre-clear cargos that contain OFWs’ balikbayan boxes,” Lina said.
He also suggested that the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) hasten the process of checking balikbayan boxes by providing e-manifests and the POEA number in the box.
“We want OFW representatives to be involved in the process. This is the gift of the president to you – you can have your boxes pre-cleared under the right process,” Lina concluded. - Rappler.com