MANILA, Philippines – Davao City Mayor and presumptive presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte slammed the Bureau of Customs (BOC) for its "insensitive and callous" plan to conduct random checks on balikbayan boxes.
Duterte echoed sentiments of some overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in his statement sent to media on Monday, August 24.
"Those balikbayan boxes are sacred. They are an expression of love and affection. Nobody should be allowed to make a mockery of this sentimental bond between a foreign worker and his family back home," said Duterte.
BOC insists that the balikbayan box inspection is part of their job and is allowed by law. Drugs, arms, and other contraband can be smuggled into the country through such boxes, said the agency.
Duterte admitted that the OFWs' balikbayan box privileges may be abused, but said there are "more sophisticated ways" of checking illegal activities.
"Commissioner [Alberto] Lina, who owns a forwarding company, knows pretty well that the safeguards could be implemented by the forwarding companies from the points of shipment," he asserted.
Concerned OFWs and their relatives cried foul over the BOC's plan, claiming the random opening of the balikbayan boxes would be abused by customs officials.
The plan was announced 4 months before Christmas, a time when OFWs send holiday presents to their loved ones in the Philippines.
Other public officials have suggested ways to assuage the fears of OFWs by, for instance, installing closed-circuit television (CCTV) system to monitor the opening of balikbayan boxes by Customs personnel.
In making his statement, Duterte said he had the many Davaoeños working abroad in mind. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, around 2.7% (around 63,000) of OFWs in 2014 came from the Davao region.
The feisty mayor is thought to be running for president in the 2016 elections but has not made his plans official.