Overseas Filipino Workers, those who regularly send relatives balikbayan boxes, were recently in a social media uproar about how the Bureau of Customs has been handling, and taxing their hard-earned pasalubong.
They have all the right to speak out and defend themselves and after all, the BoC has always been viewed as one of the most corrupt agencies in the Philippine government. But probing in deeper, the BoC continues to defend its code–a code that doesn’t exempt anyone, especially those who violate and abuse the law.
Here are the things we all should know about it.
The BoC has jurisdiction to handle, if not inspect, all incoming mail and imported cargo according to sections 602 and 1108 of the Philippine Tariff and Customs Code.
The limits for conditionally tax- and tariff-free cargo can be found in section 105. It says that all conditionally free importations (e.g. balikbayan boxes) must not exceed PHP10,000 in value, along with other conditions.
The Philippine Tariff and Customs Code was established in June 22, 1957. To say that it’s obsolete could be a blatant understatement. It’s so old that the thought of gadgets weren’t even conceived yet at the time, and marijuana was spelled with an “h.”
More importantly, the tax-free limit of PHP10,000 or USD500 established in 1957, translates to around PHP85,000 or USD1,800 in present time.
But what really is a balikbayan box? According to the definition ruled out by the BOC, these are packages of personal effects (pasalubong) sent by overseas Filipino workers to their families and relatives in the Philippines. In its simplest meaning, it is a form of gift-giving.
The contents of the balikbayan boxes must only be non-commercial goods that may range from imported food, toiletries, clothes, bags and shoes and must not exceed $500.
Recently, a report broke out revealing that there are smugglers who ship in goods, in large quantities and as expensive as appliances and electronics, inside balikbayan boxes without having to pay taxes and tariffs. And it wasn’t the first time it happened.
About 400,000 balikbayan boxes are being sent in every month and almost PHP50 million are lost because of technical smuggling, however, no concrete evidence or reports have surfaced since. Even so, the BoC took it upon its own hands to start inspecting the boxes.
Tougher measures will prevent smugglers from using the conditionally free importation clause but is should also protect OFWs who send balikbayan boxes by extending limitations.
As of this writing, the BoC has only asked the OFW’s a rhetorical question: if your boxes are clean, what are you being scared about?
Understandably, that question won’t be enough to assure that clean and legitimate balikbayan boxes won’t be tampered with. In the same light, Sen. Ralph Recto questioned the BoC on using non-intrusive inspection techniques such as x-rays.
Apparently back in 2006, some P298 million was allotted for x-ray machines that can scan 40- to 20-foot containers. Exactly where are those machines now? Earth to everyone, this might just solve half the problem–proper inspection without tampering, the legitimate boxes will be safe, the illegal ones will be identified and everyone is happy.
The only question to answer is, where could those machines be?
To point out the obvious, the code needs to be updated. The balikbayan box needs to be clearly defined, and measures should be undertaken to prevent the illegal tax- and tariff-free entry of imported merchandise to the country.
Allowable items and limits to legitimate OFW cargo must be updated to the demands of present time, providing much-needed rules on sending technological devices like laptops and smartphones.
As for the already marred image of the bureau? Well, there’s this. And, there’s always been this. Also, this.
The BoC, like any other bureau, is bound by the groundwork provided to them by the country’s lawmakers.
House Bill No. 5525,or AN ACT MODERNIZING THE CUSTOMS AND TARIFF ADMINISTRATION was submitted to congress on March 10, 2015. Rep. Romero “Miro” S. Quimbo of Marikina, 2nd District, sponsored the bill. The motion to approve the bill, as of August 24, 2015, has yet to resume.
Between now and a modernized Tariff and Customs Code, there isn’t a lot that can be done save for following and living with the antiquated rules and limitations, and–as usual in this country–wishing, hoping, praying that people are doing what they’re supposed to do. And, of course, calling them out on social media when they’re not.
Are we vigilant enough? Are we critical–or at the very least, aware–of the steps our politicians are taking to improve measures and standards?
Don’t jump to conclusions without information, but please post your thoughts in the comments section.