‘Laglag-bala,’ balikbayan box issues created ‘climate of fear’ for OFWs –advocate
The supposed "laglag-bala" extortion racket in airports and the Bureau of Customs' previous plan to manually inspect balikbayan boxes have created a "climate of fear" for OFWs, pro-OFW advocate Susan Ople said Tuesday.
Ople, head of the Blas Ople Policy Center and Training Institute, said this may result in fewer OFWs coming home or sending packages to their loved ones at home this Christmas season.
"Climate of fear—from tanim bala to tanim takot, kasi 'yan na po 'yung description ng ating mga OFWs," Ople said at a press briefing in Quezon City.
"Right now the OFWs are saying that we don't feel safe," Ople added. "There is trauma attached."
Fewer balikbayan boxes
Already, there has been a 20-30 percent decrease in the business of freight forwarders compared to last year, according to Ople, a senatorial hopeful in the 2016 elections.
Ople cited as example the case of Atlas Shipping. She said according to its owner, Joel Lungares, there were 70 container vans of balikbayan boxes from the US headed for the Philippines in October 2014. For this year, they only had 50 container vans.
"Down ang sales ng balikbayan box. Ibig sabihin, it takes time for the healing and confidence-building among OFWs to be completed," Ople said.
"Dapat daw 'pag October, pag-pasok ng 'ber' months, 'yung kanilang mga balikbayan boxes orders, yung kanilang mga containers ay triple na ang sales. Ngayon, hindi lang status quo na-maintain, bumaba pa," she added.
Each container van contains more or less 400 balikbayan boxes.
In August this year, President Benigno Aquino III ordered the BOC to stop the implementation of its plan to physically inspect balikbayan boxes after the plan drew huge flak from OFWs.
Aquino said the BOC should only conduct a physical inspection of goods if there are derogatory findings from the X-ray or K-9 examination.
Meanwhile, Ople said OFWs were deeply concerned with the case of Gloria Ortinez, the 56-year-old domestic helper who was arrested at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) recently after a bullet was found in her hand-carry bag.
Ople said the supposed lapses in security, especially the "laglag-bala" scheme allegedly perpetrated by unscrupulous airport personnel, held the collection of integrated terminal fee in question.
She said that P15 out of the domestic terminal fee by the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) was dedicated to aviation security, while P165.18 was due to MIAA itself.
Despite this, she said that OFWs like Ortinez still had to contend with security issues such as the laglag-bala extortion scheme.
"Money in, money out, dapat accounted... Sapilitan itong pagkuha, wala naman nang magagawa yun OFWs kasi integrated," said Ople, who has opposed the integration of terminal fee to airline tickets, citing the law that exempts OFWs from it.
Ople asked the MIAA for a full disclosure of the use of terminal fee funds.
She then called on OFWs victimized by extortion schemes to contact the Blas Ople Policy Center and Training Institute for assistance. "One Nanay Gloria is too much," she said. —KBK, GMA News