Friday, September 4, 2015

OFW groups welcome Lina’s apology, but vow to remain ‘vigilant’

A coalition of pro-overseas Filipino worker (OFW) groups has welcomed the public apology of Commissioner Alberto Lina over the Bureau of Customs' plan to manually inspect balikbayan boxes supposedly to address technical smuggling.

“We appreciate Commissioner Lina’s clarification before the Senate and the public at large that the OFWs were never a target, and that he would like to see more protection and benefits for our overseas workers in the proposed law,” said John Bertiz, spokesperson for the coalition, referring to the proposed Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA).

However, the coalition said it would remain "vigilant" to ensure that commitments the BoC offered during Thursday's hearing of the Senate committee on ways and means will be fulfilled.

Among these commitments were the establishment of an OFW help desk within the BOC, a streamlined process for balikbayan boxes, the passage of CMTA, and higher tax exemptions for OFW packages.

Susan Ople, president of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, said they are also hoping that a special provision will be included in the proposed CMTA that will favor OFWs.

“The OFW Coalition composed of various OFW groups and advocates welcome the public apology of Commissioner Alberto Lina, and look forward to contributing to the creation of a special provision in the proposed Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA) in favor of our modern-day heroes,” she said.

Lina issued the apology during a Senate hearing on balikbayan box issue, saying the BoC’s campaign was aimed at unscrupulous individuals and syndicates that use balikbayan boxes to smuggle contraband.

President Benigno Aquino III ordered the BoC to abort its plan to manually inspect balikbayan boxes after it received widespread criticisms from OFWs around the world.

According to the Ople Center's position paper submitted to the committee, the OFW sector was never consulted regarding the BoC's "abrupt move" to undertake random checks on balikbayan boxes.

It also sought apology from the BoC after the bureau linked OFWs to the smuggling of drugs and firearms through balikbayan boxes.

During the hearing, Customs deputy commissioner Jessie Dellosa admitted that they have no proof yet that balikbayan boxes are being used by unscrupulous individuals to smuggle illegal drugs and firearms into the country. —Rie Takumi/KBK, GMA News 

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