Balikbayan Boxes

Balikbayan box returned

Recently, the Philippines experienced what others labeled as a “small-scale people power for the digital age.” It was during the height of outrage from the online community towards the Bureau of Customs (BOC) for adding up on cargo fees and doing a manual inspection of balikbayan boxes.

After a relentless barrage of Facebook messages, blogger rants and humorous memes, no less than President Aquino himself called Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima and Customs chief Bert Lina and told them to put an end to the erstwhile practice.

Indeed, the backlash was especially fierce because the main casualties of the half-baked policies were overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

Nevertheless, if a growing number of reports are to be believed, it looks like the BOC people did not learn their lesson the first time. Purportedly, container vans are piling up once more at the Manila Customs yard, held indefinitely by officials. The reason? A new order from the BOC powers-that-be that no containers be released until the “new tax and duty increases” are paid.

When freight forwarders and brokers requested for official documentation outlining this adjustment, though, they were told that it was a “verbal directive.”

True to form, part of this BOC “verbal instruction” is that all container vans should be inspected via X-ray, and then be subjected to 100-percent physical inspection. This includes inspecting all balikbayan boxes at the forwarder’s facility.

The question arises: Isn’t this in direct conflict with the specific instruction of the President himself? P-Noy gave a very clear order that physical inspections should be conducted only if there were suspicious findings from the X-ray or K-9 examinations.

Since our inspectors and customs officials should also extend the glee, and OFWs are not the only ones who need to send gifts to their friends and relatives, they handed this down last August before the “ber” months came in.



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