Balikbayan box ‘rules’ review sought

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By Macon Ramos-Araneta/ – Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto on Monday called for the immediate “activation and convening” of a joint Senate-House oversight committee to review the implementation of the law governing balikbayan boxes.

Recto made the call following mounting complaints on the “unreasonable documentary requirements” in sending balikbayan boxes.

The Congressional Customs and Tariff Oversight Committee, which is mandated to monitor the proper implementation of Republic Act 10863, which pegs at P150,000 the total annual value of tax-free balikbayan box shipments, “is the right group to probe if the rules are indeed unreasonable.”

“We should review if because of the complicated requirements, balikbayanboxes will be wrapped in red tape,” Recto said.

The oversight committee’s convening is also made urgent “by the crisis in Marawi, which Recto said is needed in order for the committee to find out if the rules and the system allowing for the duty-free shipment of donated relief goods to evacuees, as provided for in RA 10863, are already in place.”

The Bureau of Customs recently released the rules on sending balikbayan boxes. Under the rules, senders are required to paste on one side of a box the detailed list of contents, and put inside the purchase receipts of newly-bought goods.

The senator said he shares “the apprehension of many OFWs that attaching a list of contents is tantamount to providing a keyhole that might tempt unscrupulous handlers to open it and rid it of its contents.”

Here in the Philippine, Recto said “you can trust almost all of the forwarders to treat the box carefully because they have a business and reputation to protect.”

But while he recognizes the right of the BoC to impose rules to ensure that duty-free balikbayan box privileges are not abused by “smugglers”, he said the rules must, however, be designed in a way that they will not inconvenience the greater number of overseas Filipino.

Recto said the unneeded, frivolous requirements that burden OFWs should be eliminated and added that the rules that will increase the vulnerability of the boxes being tampered with should also be removed.

“The general principle is it alright to have a requirement but it should not be difficult and many. And there should be rules that will expedite and not hamper,” said Recto. .

He said it will be the duty of the oversight committee to make a finding if the BoC , in its Customs Memorandum Order No. 04-2017 which implements Sec. 800 (g) of RA 10863, or the Customs and Modernization and Tariff Act or CMTA, “committed a bureaucratic overreach. ”

Section 800 (g) of CMTA allows OFWs and other Filipinos residing abroad to bring in or send to their families in the Philippines tax-free balikbayanboxes, whose contents are not intended for barter and sale and as long as they are not worth over P150,000.

OFWs can avail of this privilege a maximum of three times in a calendar year.

Another concern of Recto is the status of Section 120 of the CMTA, regarding “relief consignment”, or goods such as food, medicine, equipment, shelter materials for free distribution to or use of victims of calamities.”

Under the law, “clearance of relief consignment shall be a matter of priority and subject to a simplified customs procedure,” Recto said.

“These shipments must be cleared beyond the designated office and shall be waived of corresponding charges. The examination of goods are allowed only in exceptional circumstances,” he said.

“Because the balikbayan box rules limit the consignees to relatives of senders, what is the rule to be followed if kindhearted OFW sends a package to a non-relative in Marawi?” he said.

Under the law, the Department of Finance and the Department of Social Welfare and Development shall jointly issue the rules and regulations on relief consignment.

“Hopefully meron na. So that when governments and citizens of predominantly Muslim nations will send aid to Marawi, either by barges or by boxes, the rules are already in place,” he said.

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