Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Monday urged the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to be more circumspect in the inspection of balikbayan boxes and advised it to explore other methods in ensuring that they are checked in a way favorable to Filipino migrant workers.
De Lima said she understands the opposition of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their families to the BOC policy to have more intensive inspection by opening up balikbayan boxes arriving in the country.
"They should be circumspect so as not to antagonize the feelings of our OFW countrymen and their families since the OFWs have already been used to this traditional practice of minimal BOC scrutiny on personal imported packages, so long as these were not in commercial quantities," she said.
OFW groups have chided the BOC for its plan to randomly open balikbayan boxes for inspection, saying it is open to abuses by unscrupulous individuals. They said OFW section was not consulted regarding this plan, which is set to be implemented starting October.
De Lima said instead of random inspection, the BOC may subject random or suspect packages to X-ray.
"There are practical ways to approach this matter and achieving any objectives the BOC wants without subjecting our countrymen to further inconvenience," she said.
De Lima said she acknowledged that the BOC, "as the guardians of the country's trading gates, has the power to inspect and apprehend contraband or illegal and prohibited goods upon their entry in Philippine ports."
She said the BOC should be more circumspect "otherwise, the [new policy] may appear arbitrary in light of the accustomed minimal inspection the OFWs have already been used to."
Powers of the BOC
De Lima stressed that under the law, the BOC is authorized under the Customs Code to conduct such inspections. "It's just a matter of not making it inconvenient to both the sender and recipient of the balikbayan box," she said.
Customs Commissioner Albert Lina earlier announced that the BOC will become more stringent in checking balikbayan boxes as some have used them to smuggle commercial items that should be taxed.
He maintained that balikbayan boxes are exempt from duties and taxes only as long as the value of its contents do not exceed $500.
The BOC earlier said it decided to conduct andom inspections of balikbayan boxes after it found out that such are being used for “technical smuggling."
Customs Deputy Commissioner Agaton Uvero earlier said the balikbayan boxes are being used by technical smugglers who want to avoid paying the right taxes. —Mark Merueñas/KBK, GMA News