Pro-overseas Filipino workers (OFW) groups on Monday urged Bureau of Customs (BOC) officials to hold a dialogue with the OFW sector in connection with its plan to randomly inspect balikbayan boxes supposedly as a way to curb technical smuggling.
Despite government assurances on safeguards, OFW groups fear the planned random inspection, set to be implemented starting October in time for the Christmas season, will be abused by "unscrupulous individuals."
“Every balikbayan box is sacred to the OFW and his or her family. Pinaghirapang pag-ipunan at bilhin ang bawat nakalagay sa kahon na ‘yan – mula sapatos hanggang lotion, mula tuwalya hanggang de lata. At kung may mawala, sino ang managot sa nagpadala?” said the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, a pro-migrant group, in a statement.
Susan Ople, who heads the center, said the coalition intends to formally write to Commissioner Albert Lina to seek a dialogue in order to clarify the bureau's new policy on balikbayan boxes.
"This has become a very emotional issue for our OFWs," she noted. "We would like to know firsthand from the BOC leadership what brought this controversy on."
Among the issues to be raised by the OFW coalition before the BOC is the "dictatorial and arbitrary manner" by which the bureau has chosen to approach the balikbayan box issue, the center statement said.
“Walang consultations, nagpa-media na kaagad na kung iisipin mo, parang napakasama naman ng tingin nila sa aming mga OFWs," said coalition leader Jun Aguilar, who previously worked in Saudi Arabia.
"Kung may mga nag-aabuso sa balikbayan boxes, ‘yon ang habulin nila. Huwag naman na parang ang dating ay mismong mga OFWs ang smugglers dahil hindi ‘yan totoo," he added.
Another coalition leader, John Bertiz, who also previously worked in Saudi Arabia, said the government’s alleged lack of respect and compassion for OFWs is evident given the terminal fee integration and balikbayan box issues, both done without prior consultations with OFWs.
Ople, daughter of the late Senate President Blas Ople, said OFWs are willing to help the government in addressing the problem in smuggling.
"Kung nagkaroon lang sana ng public hearings or prior consultations, baka nga mismong mga OFWs ang tumulong sa ating pamahalaan para mas maging maayos ang sistema," she said.
Aside from the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, other members of the coalition are the Philippine Migrants Rights Watch (PMRW), the OFW Family Party-List, United Filipino Seafarers, Filipino Migrant Workers Group, PEBA, Lito Soriano of LBS Recruitment Solutions, Global Asia Alliance Consultant, Inc, KAMPI and KAKAMPPI and Patnubay Online. —KBK, GMA News