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Halt on box inspections ‘victory’ for OFWs but ‘war far from over’

/ 06:54 PM August 25, 2015
OFW ARRIVAL FOR CHRISTMAS/DECEMBER 23, 2011 OFWs arrive in NAIA 1 for Xmas season. LYN RILLON

In this file photo, overseas Filipino workers arrive in the Philippines via Ninoy Aquino International Airport to celebrate the Christmas season at home with their families.

President Benigno Aquino III’s order to stop the random physical inspection of balikbayan boxes is an “initial victory for overseas Filipino workers,” but a militant group says the “war is far from over.”

Despite Aquino’s order, Migrante party-list on Tuesday said the government would make sure it reached its supposed target of P600 million worth of revenues from balikbayan boxes being sent home by OFWs.

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“We are pleased that the President has spoken on the issue of random inspection of our balikbayan boxes. This is an initial victory for OFWs worldwide. But all the beautiful words cannot hide the fact that the administration has imposed on [Bureau of Customs] a P600-million revenue target from balikbayan boxes,” Migrante chair Connie Bragas-Regalado said in a statement.

Regalado said the target was what prompted BOC Commissioner Alberto Lina to implement the “brazen, sacrilegious” inspection of balikbayan boxes.

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“The statement of the Department of Finance, which oversees the BOC, is totally silent on the P600-million target. If this stays, we have every reason to believe that the ‘seemingly reasonable’ steps are nothing but damage-control aimed at dousing OFW and national protests,” Regalado said.

Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima on Monday told Inquirer editors and reporters in a roundtable interview that Aquino ordered the BOC to stop opening balikbayan boxes except when they posed threat to public safety.

READ: Aquino orders BOC: Only suspect OFW boxes must be opened

The BOC earlier said the government was losing P50 million a month or P600 million a year from “smuggled” and “nondeclared goods” in an average of 1,000 containers of balikbayan boxes (400 boxes per container) arriving monthly in Philippine ports.

Regalado said the P600-million revenue was “by far bigger” than the P100-million legal assistance fund for OFWs, which was “interestingly invisible” in the Department of Foreign Affairs’ budget for 2016.

“The President has spoken on the random inspections, prompted no doubt by the furor it caused among OFWs, but the administration is keeping mum on how it plans to retrieve revenues allegedly lost. And more importantly, why the sudden push to impose a P600-million target revenue from balikbayan boxes months before election season starts?” Regalado said.

“There still exists the looming order from the BOC to increase clearing fees for all containers entering Philippines ports to as much as P100,000 to P120,000. Kung hindi makukuha ang target na pondo para sa eleksyon sa random inspection, kukuhanin naman sa taxation,” she added.

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Migrante said the whole balikbayan box issue has opened a Pandora’s box for the Aquino administration, which “has a lot of explaining to do.”

“The BOC should submit a complete report on the cited cases of illegal contraband and what steps were taken to apprehend and prosecute smugglers. We also demand that the BOC submit a full report on the number of boxes opened and examined recently, and the result of the inspections,” it added.

Migrante said a “Zero Remittance Day” will be held on Aug. 28 “to call on Aquino to retract the P600-million target revenue from balikbayan boxes.” It added that OFWs in Hong Kong would hold a protest at the Philippine consulate on Aug. 26 while their families in Manila would march to the BOC office. Yuji Vincent Gonzales/RC

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TAGS: Balikbayan Box, BoC, Bureau of Customs, Customs, Migrante, ofws, Overseas Filipino workers, President Aquino
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