OFWs very honest with ‘balikbayan’ box declarations–ex-labor usec
The Bureau of Customs (BOC) should reevaluate its guidelines limiting the tax-exempt value of the contents of balikbayan boxes from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to $500, a nonprofit organization said on Tuesday.
The Blas F. Ople Policy Center, which advocates labor migration issues, said the bureau should consider reviewing and updating its Memorandum Circular No. 7990, which was crafted more than two decades ago.
“The US$500 per balikbayan box was determined in 1990, 25 years ago when the foreign currency rates were much different, and costs of goods were not as high,” the center said in a statement.
Former labor undersecretary and organization president Susan Ople said it would only be fitting to raise the tax-exempt value of OFW goods as the prices of commodities here and abroad had also increased since the creation of the 1990 memorandum.
“When does an OFW cross the line in sending food and other items home, from household consumption to commercial use? Very clear guidance must be set in keeping with the times because contrary to the perception created by this fiasco, the great majority of OFWs keep to the limit and are very honest with their declarations,” Ople said in a statement.
Ople added that the foundation was looking forward to a meeting with Customs officials to clarify “unresolved issues” and come up with a “clearer process flow in relation to the integrity of balikbayan boxes.”
“Certainly our modern-day heroes would not tolerate such syndicated crime because their own families may fall prey to illegal substances smuggled through balikbayan boxes,” Ople said, noting that the bureau has the responsibility to file charges against “unscrupulous companies”and inform OFWs of their modus operandi.
Ople said the BOC should have been more sensitive in addressing the issue of smuggled goods being inserted in balikbayan box shipments to prevent associating OFWs with illegal activities.
“The BOC failed to lay down the proper predicate for its actions regarding balikbayan boxes of OFWs. At the onset, the Customs chief should have been very emphatic and clear in stating that the real targets were erring freight forwarders, and not the OFWs themselves,” she said.
“Certainly, we do not want the global community to associate smuggling of contraband with the otherwise positive image of Filipino overseas workers,” Ople added.
Amid criticisms from various sectors, President Benigno Aquino III on Monday stopped the BOC from randomly inspecting balikbayan boxes except when these posed threat to public safety. Yuji Vincent Gonzales/RC
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