The horrors of sending balikbayan boxes, according to OFWs
Fewer overseas Filipinos sent balikbayan boxes to their loved ones in the Philippines this year compared to last, according to data obtained by GMA News Online from some ports and freight forwarders.
While officials would not surmise on the possible cause of the drop, OFWs contacted by GMA News Online have pointed to the usual problems on pilferage, delays in the delivery, and mishandling of the boxes as reasons.
Rodolfo Alba, 46, a safety officer in Al Ain Feed Mill in the United Arab Emirates, recalled how his pasalubong for his mother went missing when he arrived in the Philippines last May for a visit.
"Pagdating sa conveyor para kunin na ang mga bagahe, I braced myself para sa isang luggage kung saan nakalagay ang mga paborito ng nanay [ko]," he shared via email.
"Kaso, nung akin nang kunin ay halos mabuwal ako sa gaan ng maleta. Nang suriin ko ang ginawa kong seal ay wala na ito. Wala na rin ang mga bagay na dapat sana ay kay nanay," he said, adding the missing items included shampoo, lotion and bath soaps.
Rodolfo said it was the first time he experienced such in his nine years of being an OFW in UAE.
Japan-based Terrence Changcoco, meanwhile, remembered how the second-hand CDs he sent to his brother in the Philippines arrived late and with broken jewel cases.
"Yung iba, CD mismo 'yung wasak," he said. "Hindi na nga iningatan, sobrang delayed pa."
Others, meanwhile, cited financial problems as reason why they did not send balikbayan boxes this year, while others said they didn't see the point of sending imported items to their families at home anymore.
"Early '80s, tatay ko OFW sa Dubai, he would send us boxes of Toblerone, imported corned beef, ganun. Masaya na kami nun," said Pen de Villa, who until September this year was working as a layout artist in New York.
"Ngayon, you want Toblerone? Go to 7-Eleven. You want imported corned beef, canned goods? Go to Shopwise," he said.
The drop in the number of balikbayan boxes sent to the Philippines was particularly observed in the months leading to the Christmas season, when 40 percent of the estimated 4.8 million balikbayan boxes sent to the Philippines every year arrive.
At the Port of Clark, 1,340 boxes, each weighing at least 30 kg, arrived in October this year, nearly 4,000 less than the 5,064 recorded in the same month last year.
It had nearly the same difference for November, when the number dipped to 3,423 for 2015 from 7,963 in 2014. For December, Port of Clark received 2,381 in 2015 compared to 4,651 in 2014.
Freight forwarder Atlas Shippers International Inc. also registered a drop in 2015.
"As per our records from November 2014 compared to November 2015 our business dropped by 10%," an operations manager told GMA News Online by phone.
For its part, the Bureau of Customs — which had to abort its plan to manually inspect balikbayan boxes after OFWs voiced their strong opposition to it — said not all ports reported fewer balikbayan boxes arriving from abroad.
It said Port of Manila logged 2,031 boxes in August and 3,506 in September, while Manila International Container Port, where most of the balikbayan boxes arrive, recorded 1,034 shipping containers in September, 864 in October, and 955 in November.
In September, the BOC revised its rules and regulations, banning Customs personnel from opening and inspecting boxes. The new memorandum order states that boxes have to undergo mandatory x-ray scanning, and only those tagged as "suspect" will be opened in the presence of representatives from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration. —KBK, GMA News