The Bureau of Customs (BOC) will issue on Sept 2 revised guidelines on shipping balikbayan (personal effects) boxes, the result of President Benigno Aquino III’s instructions to stop random physical inspections of such shipments, unless x-ray and K9 examinations show derogatory findings that merit such a check.
Atty. Arturo Lachica, BOC deputy commissioner of the Revenue Collection Monitoring Group, in a press conference on Aug 28 said the amendment focuses on Aquino’s instructions issued August 24 that heed the call of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and migrant groups for BOC to stop opening balikbayan boxes.
Taking into account trade facilitation, he said BOC will allow inspection of balikbayan boxes at the shipper’s warehouse, provided the consignee approves the measure. In the event of a physical inspection, an Overseas Workers Welfare Association representative or a designated OFW association or both will be present to witness the inspection.
Customs Commissioner Alberto Lina, during a walk-through with media on the process of balikbayan x-ray inspection also on Aug 28, said BOC will push through with the plan to require freight forwarders of balikbayan shipments to install x-ray machines inside their warehouse.
He also said the bureau will subject balikbayan boxes to pre-clearance, a similar privilege granted to importers accredited under the Super Green Lane (SGL) system. Under SGL, accredited importers’ shipments are afforded advance processing and clearance, which means their shipments are cleared even before they arrive and may be released immediately from the carrying vessel to the waiting trucks for delivery to importer’s warehouse.
It is not clear whether the pre-clearance system will be part of the revised rules. Lina did not give further details.
But he suggested that OFWs write down their Philippine Overseas Employment Administration number on the shipping manifest so the BOC will be able to tell if the box is really meant for families in the Philippines, in which case it will no longer be further examined.
Asked if the revised rules will include an increase in fees for importing balikbayan boxes, Lachica said the earlier reported hike in duties and taxes for the US trade lane is speculation and no memorandum has yet been issued on the subject.
He stressed BOC does not collect taxes from OFWs, only from forwarders handling the shipments.
Noting that the issue had been “blown out of proportion”, Lachica insisted that BOC was not picking on balikbayan boxes but on consolidated shipments masquerading as balikbayan boxes but containing commercial cargoes.
In a media presentation, Lina said BOC is identifying the number of K9s needed to cover all airports and seaports. Some are now being leased to the BOC by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.
Also at the post-qualification stage with the Department of Budget Management is the procurement of more than 200 additional CCTV cameras, Lina added.
Lina again called for immediate passage of the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act “so we can harmonize, modernize and simplify our Customs procedures, superseding policies and procedures that have not been updated as far back as 1957,” and “especially for the benefit of our OFW kababayan.”
He said BOC will hold a dialogue with OFW representatives “so they are well-represented in the new directives of the President, such as access within the bureau.”
Meantime, OFW groups are suggesting that the tax exemption for balikbayan boxes be reviewed. Currently, no tax is levied on a box with contents amounting to US$500. The groups want this increased to P200,000. – Text and photo by Roumina Pablo