MANILA, Philippines – There is no tax increase on balikbayan boxes – instead, the stricter compliance reminder on the said shipments is “necessary” to stop smugglers who continue to abuse the existing system, the Bureau of Customs (BOC) said on Sunday, August 23.
“To our overseas Filipino workers, the Bureau of Customs is not increasing taxes on the balikbayan boxes nor do we want to impede in existing processes,” the BOC said in a statement. “Hindi Customs ang nagbabalak abusuhin ang mga overseas Filipino workers, ang gusto namin sa Customs ay matigil na ang pang-aabuso sa sistema na dulot ng smugglers.”
(Customs do not want to abuse OFWs. What we want here in Customs is to stop the abuse of the system by smugglers.)
The illegal activities of smugglers – including insertion of smuggled goods in consolidated shipments or through balikbayan boxes sent to fake consignees in the Philippines – continue to take its toll in the form of loss of revenue.
“The BOC has paid greatly in revenue losses through these smuggling activities, and more importantly, the affected industries,” the Bureau said.
Recto: Don’t nitpick on balikbayan boxes
Senator Ralph Recto, on the other hand, urged the BOC to focus its efforts on implementing more effective ways to stop smuggling syndicates who are involved in sending oil, fuel, rice, guns, drugs and other illegal goods to the country.
“Lahat ng mga malalaking huli sa BOC were products of good intelligence work and not nitpicking through balikbayan boxes (All the big catch of the BOC were products of good intelligence work, and not nitpicking through balikbayan boxes),” Recto emphasized. “This must be the focus, based on case build up and solid detective work, and not on the random opening of boxes sent by OFWs.”
Another move to be considered, he suggested, is for the government to increase the current allowed tax-exempt value of balikbayan box contents.
From $500 (P23,000) mandated in 1990, the ceiling should be tripled to $1500 (P69,000) – a “small thing compared to the P2.28 trillion ($48 billion) that [overseas Filipinos] sent back home last year.”
“Ibalato na natin sa mga OFWs ang balikbayan boxes kasi ang pagpapadala n’yan sa kanilang mga mahal sa buhay ay isang paraan para mabawasan nila ng konti ang kanilang kalungkutan,” Recto said.
(Let’s give it to them since the balikbayan boxes they send to their families in the Philippines is a way to lessen homesickness.)
‘Not technologically equipped’
According to the BOC, existing rules on balikbayan boxes still apply. This includes, among others, spot checks and inspections mandated by law. However, the lack of necessary devices hinders the bureau to effectively inspect boxes to prevent smuggling. (READ: OFWs: Hands off our balikbayan boxes)
“The bureau is not technologically equipped to inspect all incoming boxes as efficiently as we want,” BOC said. “If you have or will experience receiving severely tampered and/or missing items from your box, then let us know so we can properly help you.”
Recto said that the Senate Finance Subcommittee will inquire agency officials on the status of non-intrusive inspection techniques as programs aimed to catch smugglers are funded under BOC’s budgets.
These techniques will pave way for detection of contraband goods without the need to open balikbayan boxes sent by OFWs.
“There are ways to catch the rat without burning the entire house down,” Recto stressed. “Programs to find big-time smugglers and not a few bars of bath soap in a balikbayan box are already funded under the BOC’s operating budget this year.
One of these, he cited, is the P298 million ($6 million) allotted to maintain 30 X-ray machines installed in 10 of the country’s biggest ports. Acquired in 2006 through a loan from the Chinese government at a cost of $2.5 million ($13 billion) each, the X-ray machines can scan a 40-by-20 feet shipping container in a matter of minutes.
The aim of the X-ray program is to do away with manual operations including inspecting each balikbayan box, which are tedious and inefficient.
“Ang justification ay gamitin ang teknolohiya para tanggalin ang panghuhula kung ano ang dapat buksan,” explained Recto. “It was supposed to make the opening of boxes redundant kasi kapag ginamitan ng X-ray, parang see-through na ang loob ng isang van.”
(The justification in using technology is to remove the random picking of what should be opened. It was supposed to make the opening of boxes redundant since if you use X-ray, you’ll see the insides of a van immediately.)
Recto added that the BOC invited bidders to supply 20 X-ray machines to be installed in airports through a P148 million ($6 million) contract in 2013.
Additional machines should be placed in post offices where Customs personnel hold office to check incoming packages for taxable goods. – Jodesz Gavilan / Rappler.com