OFW’s around the world expressed their outrage on social media sites after the Bureau of Customs (BOC) recently announced that Balikbayan Box suspected of containing “suspicious” and “smuggled” goods will be subjected to random physical inspection.
BOC Commissioner Alberto Lina said in a statement that the measure is meant to implement an existing law that has been neglected by his predecessors. The Bureau Chief also reiterated that this will address the long-standing problem of smuggling and willful misdeclaration of goods that has resulted in enormous losses in potential revenues by the government.
Balikbayan Box should contain only “pasalubong” for family members’ personal use. Some were allegedly found to contain an excessive number of imported goods that are intended to be sold as “pahulugan” to friends and perhaps in the black market or on online shops. This has significantly affected the Bureau’s efforts to shore up its collection which has for a long time fell short of the target.
He also said in an interview that Balikbayan Boxes are also used to bring in large appliances which are under declared in the invoice. He gave an example of a tourist in the US who went shopping during a mall sale and sent all the items in several boxes. Although he admitted that these may still be considered as BalikBayan Boxes, the contents should nevertheless be declared as “Shopping Items.”
An ordinary BalikBayan box should contain only “pasalubong” items for OFW families in the Philippines and should not exceed more than 10 pieces of the same items. Otherwise, the BOC will suspect that the items are intended to be sold for profiteering.
For example, if the contents of a Balikbayan Box all consist of only one or two kinds of any of the following: clothes, bags, watches, shoes and perfumes, the items will be considered as smuggled and suspected to be imported items for sale once they reach the recipient.
Due to the proliferation of such illegal practice, one does not need to go to a Duty Free store to purchase such items anymore; a lot of people instead go Online Shop of Imported Goods. Various social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Viber, Wechat and the like are also allegedly being utilized for online selling where goods are priced much lower because they are not subjected to the appropriate taxes.
However, browsing through a number of Facebook accounts selling imported brands online reveal that many of these “shops” are legitimate businesses, with complete licenses and registration. They import goods in bulk and pay the appropriate taxes.
Some are actually small-scale businesses which sell items in limited number as they do not maintain large inventories of imported goods or sell the same line of items one at a time, thus, might come only from one BalikBayan box.
On the other hand, reports of large scale smuggling of imported goods by big businesses remain unhampered despite the Bureau’s pronouncements that they will clamp down on such illegal activities. Thus, the Bureau has received a lot of public criticism for its decision to re-direct its campaign against smuggling to Balikbayan Box which has become an important link between OFW’s and their families.
In response to the overwhelming public backlash, the President on Monday instructed the Department of Finance to suspend the random checking of Balikbayan Boxes and instead rely on the use of x-ray machines and K-9 dogs during inspection. The Bureau of Customs, under the directive of the Department of Finance, immediately complied with the directive.
A number of lawmakers reacted to rants by OFW’s and their families on social media. Some recommended an adjustment to the ceiling on the total value of Balikbayan Box contents exempted from taxes and duties to US$2,000, a pre-inspection of Balikbayan Box from the source location, and the installation of more x-ray machines, CCTV cameras and K-9 dogs at freight forwarding warehouses.
For inquiries on your packages, please call PHLPOST, CMEC, NAIA at 8541641, 8549825, 8510291 or 8540086.