FIFTY days before Christmas, Senator Sonny Angara warned the personnel of the Bureau of Customs (BoC) against tampering with Balikbayan boxes that overseas Filipino workers start sending home at this time.
Angara has reminded the BoC to strictly implement the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA) that mandates less intrusive examination of balikbayan boxes brought into the country.
"Malinaw sa ating batas na hindi na pwedeng basta na lang bubuksan at kakalkalin ang mga balikbayan box. We pushed for this law in response to the complaints of our OFWs and their families that some items in their balikbayan boxes were allegedly stolen or damaged during inspection," Angara said.
Under the implementing rules on balikbayan boxes, all deconsolidators must establish their own customs facility and warehouse equipped with CCTVs and baggage x-ray machine for the examination of balikbayan boxes. All baggage x-ray facilities shall be under the control and supervision of the BoC, and only trained BoC personnel shall be allowed to operate the baggage x-ray machines.
"We are hopeful that with this law in place, this will never happen again. Pangalagaan at respetuhin sana natin ang mga pinaghirapan at pinag-ipunan ng ating mga kababayan abroad para ipadala sa kanilang mga pamilya dito sa bansa," added Angara, who sponsored the CMTA or Republic Act 10863, which also provides for higher tax exemption for balikbayan boxes.
Under the 2016 law, balikbayan boxes sent by any Filipino worker or resident abroad not exceeding P150,000 in value are exempted from taxes and duties.
Before the CMTA was enacted, the tax exemption ceiling for balikbayan boxes was only P10,000.
According to the BoC, the number of balikbayan boxes shipped to the country, which is around 400,000 every month, doubles during the Christmas season.
The amended implementing rules on balikbayan boxes were only released by the BoC in August of this year. The BoC revised its guidelines after receiving criticisms last year regarding its tedious requirements for overseas Filipinos to avail themselves of the tax incentive.
Under the old guidelines, Filipinos abroad must submit an itemized list with the total value of the contents of the balikbayan box, together with copies of receipts, and a photocopy of their passport.