Thursday, September 17, 2015

No extra fees on balikbayan boxes this Christmas, BoC assures OFWs

Overseas Filipinos sending gifts to their families back home this Christmas will not face the burden of extra fees for their balikbayan boxes, Customs Deputy Commissioner Arturo Lachica assured OFW groups during a dialogue on Wednesday.

During the dialogue, held at the the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration's (OWWA) main office in Pasay City, Lachica denied that the Bureau of Customs (BOC) will impose additional taxes or new fees on balikbayan boxes as claimed by several sectors.

He clarified that the additional fees will only be imposed on consolidators who handle containers with balikbayan boxes.

“Hindi po actually 'yung taxes ang nag-increase because the Bureau of Customs cannot simply impose or increase taxes. Ang nangyari po, ang sinasabi pong singil niya per container [ay] sa mga consolidator natin,” he said, adding that the rate of every balikbayan box sent to consolidators is prescribed by the Department of Trade and Industry.

The deputy commissioner admitted that existing laws on the taxation of OFW goods were not strongly enforced by the BOC itself, adding that its current implementing rules and regulations need updating.

“We are trying to be liberal. There are some misgivings din sa iba dahil nawala rin 'yung customs declaration form. 'Pag dumadating diyan sa airport, hindi na masyadong ini-inspect masyado 'yan," Lachica  said.

“When it comes to balikbayan, the Bureau of Customs, given yung awareness niya sa taxation ng mga items na 'yan ay medyo obsolete na, liberal ang treatment: ibig sabihin, hindi na tinatapos 'yan,” he further said.

Though he could not speak for other freight forwarders, Atlas Shippers International, Inc. President and CEO Joel P. Longares said his company would roll back its prices for balikbayan boxes coming from the US.

Atlas raised its shipping prices last month after the BOC's aborted move to increase fees on balikbayan box containers to P180,000 per van supposedly in October.

Its CEO said their price hike was also an overdue change in prices due to the expenses they incur in shipping goods out of the US.

“Average ng Atlas is $63 [per box] ang kinikita namin. Kung gumastos kami ng $50, meron kaming matitirang $13. 'Yun ang sweldo ko, 'yun ang sweldo ng empleyado, 'yun ang sweldo ng workers, lahat,” Longares explained.

The Middle East would remain unaffected by the changes, as the difference in fees was very negligible.

Lachica went on to deny that the changes in fees were enacted to cover the BOC's deficit in revenue collections, though he refused to elaborate their plans to make up for the loss.

“I don't want to discuss this shortfall because it will be associated again... sa balikbayan box. I think that's the wrong focus. There's no truth that we are trying to cover up yung shortfall by collecting sa balikbayan boxes,” he said.

Should there be changes to the prices for consolidated cargo, the BOC vowed that it would hold proper consultations with shipping companies and other stakeholders.

“Any imposition of an increase sa cargo, I think, the proper consultations will be done with all the stakeholders para ma-prevent natin yung situation na ganito na nagkakaroon tayo ng aberya,” Lachica said.

The OFW Coalition and the BOC held a dialogue at the OWWA main office in Pasay City to clarify their roles in the bureau's inspection of balikbayan boxes and set parameters to define packages sent by OFWs and Filipino travelers.

While they were unable to settle the latter, both parties agreed to another dialogue at another, indeterminate date. —KBK, GMA News 

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