overseas Filipinos

Thousands of balikbayan boxes sent by OFWs stuck in warehouses for months

Michelle Abad

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Thousands of balikbayan boxes sent by OFWs stuck in warehouses for months

INVENTORY. The Association of Bidders with the Auction and Cargo Disposal Division of MICP conduct an inventory of the remaining 4 of 16 containers of balikbayan boxes shipped by All Win Balikbayan Cargo LLC in the Hobart Warehouse in Balagtas, Bulacan in a photo released November 11, 2022.

Bureau of Customs

Initial investigation by authorities show that after 'consolidators' collect money from OFWs and ship them, 'deconsolidators' in the Philippines abandon the shipments

MANILA, Philippines – Potentially thousands of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the Middle East filled balikbayan boxes to send back to their loved ones in the Philippines, but months – and, for some, even a year – later, recipients remain in the dark as to where their gifts are.

On Saturday, November 5, crowds of OFW relatives flocked to the Hobart Warehouse in Balagtas, Bulacan, where 4,625 balikbayan boxes shipped by Win Balikbayan Cargo LLC, also known as All Win, were in storage.

The Bureau of Customs (BOC) confirmed that they were “abandoned” by consolidators meant to handle their shipments.

Marjorie Laine Ilagan, an OFW based in Dubai, sent two boxes: one in May and one in June. On Thursday, November 10, Marjorie said she had been on a visit to the Philippines since June and would be returning to Dubai soon, but neither of her boxes had arrived.

Wala na po paramdam ang All Win…. Sayang talaga pera. Sana lang dumating na before Christmas,” Marjorie said. (All Win has not contacted us to give updates…. Wasted money. I just hope the boxes arrive before Christmas.)

Ericson Baldeviso, another OFW from Abu Dhabi, sent one box containing food, household items, and gifts for his nephew in January via All Win. As of November, his family has yet to receive it. Like Marjorie, Ericson said he had not received updates from the cargo company.

Marami po kami ang nawalan ng cargo, kasi ‘yung may-ari ng All Win ay nagtago na, kaya ‘yung mga box namin, di namin alam kung nasaan na,” Ericson alleged. (Many of us have lost our cargo because the owners of All Win have gone into hiding, so we don’t know where our boxes are now.)

Similar stories to Marjorie’s and Ericson’s are seen in Facebook groups like Balikbayan Cargo Boxes Complaints Page and All Win Cargo Updates. Here, OFWs and their families seek advice and share information on their common dilemma.

Some lament that groceries sent months ago have probably expired. A post shows one user asking if anyone has received boxes from Dubai shipped via All Win, followed by a long string of comments saying variations of, “Wala pa po (Nothing yet),” and “Waiting lang (Still waiting).”

Where are the boxes now?

All Win is not the only company being tagged as having abandoned cargo entrusted to them. The BOC also identified CMG International Movers and Kabayan Island Express.

According to the BOC, 1,480 boxes shipped by CMG arrived in the Philippines between August 2021 and February 2022. They were “abandoned” on September 30, 2021. As of Friday, November 11, at least 1,450 have been delivered with the help of the Door-to-Door Consolidators Association of the Philippines, while the remaining 30 boxes have yet to be delivered due to “incomplete information and/or no confirmation or response from the recipients or senders.”

Meanwhile, 1,154 boxes handled by Kabayan arrived between October and November 2021. They were abandoned May 12, 2022. As of Friday, 217 boxes were successfully delivered, 310 are out for delivery, 210 are for dispatch, and 88 are pending delivery. 

Cargo shipped by All Win arrived between June and July 2022, and were considered abandoned on August 11. A Manila Bulletin report said 1,200 boxes were released to their families, but the BOC has yet to validate the total number, as an inventory is still ongoing.

Fingers pointed at consolidators

Some reports have called the failed deliveries a “scam.” BOC spokesperson Arnold dela Torre told Rappler on Friday that initial investigations make it appear that the consolidators deliberately abandoned the cargo.

Ayon sa mga naunang information at investigation na ginawa, naniningil sila abroad, [at] kapag nakalagay na sa container yung mga balikbayan boxes, ipapadala lang sa Pilipinas, pero ‘yung pagproseso para mai-deliver doon sa mga tahanan ng kamag-anak ng OFWs, wala na ho silang ginawang effort or tulong or financial na pag-aasikaso. Kaya po natengga siya,” said Dela Torre.

(According to initial information and investigation, they ask for payment abroad, and when the balikbayan boxes are put into containers, they are only delivered to the Philippines, but in the processing of the cargo to have them delivered to the houses of the OFWs’ relatives, they no longer put any effort, assistance, or financial arrangements. That’s why they were stuck.)

Ang nangyari is nangolekta lang sila abroad, [tapos] ‘Bahala na kayo diyan sa Pilipinas,’” he added. (What happened is, they collected money abroad, and then basically said, “You’re on your own there in the Philippines.”)

In shipping balikbayan boxes, there are foreign-based “consolidators” that handle the shipments from those sending them from abroad, and there are “deconsolidators” – their counterparts in the Philippines that handle the boxes once they arrive.

CMG International Movers acts as both consolidator and deconsolidator of its boxes, while Kabayan Island Express, a consolidator, has deconsolidator FBV Forwarder and Logistics. All Win’s deconsolidator is Cargoflex Haulers Corporation.

Dela Torre said that the deconsolidators failed to process payments of duties and taxes, storage charges, and delivery charges. 

“Sa mga customer ng All Win, wala po sa amin ang mga boxes ‘nyo po. Dinala ang container sa Bulacan. Hindi po namin warehouse ‘yun,” Cargoflex said in a statement on October 21. The company deferred to the BOC. (To the customers of All Win, your boxes are not with us. The container was brought to Bulacan. That is not our warehouse.)

Winning bidders for the delivery of boxes, which are separate parties from the consolidators, are working together with the BOC to inform recipients that their boxes are ready for pick-up or delivery.

Seeking accountability

OFW Ericson said he and a group of other OFWs chipped in to hire a lawyer to help them with their dilemma. He does not have information on whether a case has been filed against All Win.

Dela Torre said that running after the allegedly errant consolidators is tricky, as the companies involved are based abroad. The bureau is coordinating with the Department of Migrant Workers to come up with options to hold them accountable.

The BOC spokesperson added that the bureau was drafting new policies to make consolidators and deconsolidators jointly liable in events like this.

Insurance is usually part of OFWs’ deals when they give their boxes to the consolidators, Dela Torre said. But because the boxes have been turned over to winning bidders, collecting insurance for the food items the OFWs bought for their families, some of which have probably spoiled, may no longer be possible.

Kawawa po ‘yung mga kababayan natin kasi wala silang kalaban-laban eh. Kinuha lang ‘yung balikbayan boxes tapos pinabayaan na…. Kami naman po, ayaw na naming maulit ‘yun na pag nandiyan, is laging magiging subject ng public bidding, ang ginagawa po namin is dapat ma-deliver siya,” said Dela Torre.

(It’s unfair to our countrymen because they were helpless. Their balikbayan boxes were taken from them and later abandoned…. On our part, we do not want it to happen again that when the boxes are there, we always have to subject them to public bidding. We want them delivered.) – with reports from Yana Uy/Rappler.com

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Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers overseas Filipinos, the rights of women and children, and local governments.