Respecting OFWs

Respecting OFWs

Respecting OFWs
Bureau of Customs Deputy Commissioner Arturo Lachica chose his words carefully, refusing even to publicly disclose his agency’s annual deficit in revenue collections during a meeting on balikbayan boxes. He was trying to avoid any misinterpretation, he said. The BoC heard the message of millions of overseas Filipino workers loud and clear: “Do not mess with our boxes!”
During a dialogue held last week between Customs officials and the OFW coalition composed of several civil society groups and OFW advocates, Commissioner Lachica said that his agency will be liberal in handling balikbayan or care packages sent home by Filipino migrant workers.
OFWs, he said, must no longer fear the following:
• Manual check on a balikbayan box sent by an OFW unless there are derogatory findings after the entire container van containing said box passed through an X-ray machine and the box itself passed through a smaller X-ray machine; even then, no customs personnel would be allowed to open the box unless a designated representative from the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA) is present to ensure that no pilferage takes place; and,
• That there would be an increase in the costs of sending balikbayan boxes this Christmas and beyond; if and when the BoC is planning to impose additional fees on forwarding companies, the agency would first undertake public consultations with various stakeholders including the OFWs. Thus, the prices of balikbayan boxes and door-to-door services shall and should remain the same.
How about inspection of luggage belonging to returning OFWs who intend to spend Christmas vacation in their homeland? Liberality would still apply, the BoC said. Lachica said that as long as the vacationing Filipino worker is not bringing home any contraband or an abundance of items that are obviously intended for commercial sale, then that worker has nothing to fear.
Under an old law, a cargo box sent home by an OFW to his or her family must have a collective value not to exceed Php10,000. These items must not be for commercial use, and don’t exceed a dozen of each item. Thus, if the current law is strictly applied, an OFW cannot send home via a balikbayan box more than a dozen soaps, lotions, or chocolates and candies. However, several senators pointed out during a recent public hearing that prices have gone way up, and the Php 10,000 limit is no longer reasonable. Customs Chief Alberto Lina agreed, hence the BoC’s decision to be liberal when it comes to OFW boxes.
Is the balikbayan box issue now over and done with? Vigilance remains necessary. Commissioner Lina had publicly apologized to OFWs and gave strict instructions for customs officers to show utmost respect for care boxes lovingly packed, sealed, and sent home by our modern-day heroes. What about his staff? And what about the next BoC chief? What would be his or her interpretation of this outdated law?
Sen. Sonny Angara, chairman of the Senate committees on labor and ways and means, expressed hope that the proposed Customs Modernization and Tariff Act shall be enacted soon. Amounts being mentioned as the proper value for a balikbayan box to be tax-exempt range from Php 50,000 to as high as Php 150,000 per box. The passage of this law offers a permanent solution. Meanwhile, we must hold the BoC to its promise to respect the balikbayan box. For any complaint, an OFW can write to the BoC via [email protected] or search for the Bureau of Customs Public Assistance and Complaints Desk on Facebook.
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