Pimentel files bill exempting balikbayan box from duties, other taxes
Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III has filed a bill that would not only prohibit the opening of balikbayan boxes but would also exempt from all duties and taxes one box per overseas Filipino worker (OFW) per month.
Citing the constitutional provision that the government shall protect the rights of workers and promote their welfare, Senate Bill 2927 filed by Pimentel aims to institute an expanded balikbayan program, amending for the purpose Republic Act No. 6768 as amended by R.A. 9174 and for other purposes.
Under the bill, a balikbayan box, measuring 24 inches by 24 inches by 30 inches, should only be subjected to non-intrusive methods of inspection by the Bureau of Customs (BOC) personnel through the use of trained dogs, x-ray and other similar technologies.
Balikbayan boxes, the bill said, could only be opened in the following circumstances: first, when the consignor’s export declaration and packing list are not attached to the balikbayan box, and second, when the BOC is tipped off that the box contains banned, prohibited or regulated import commodities.
Regardless of the total dutiable value of its contents, the proposed measure also seeks to exempt from taxes and duties one balikbayan box per month per OFW which Pimentel said “is but a small measure of assistance in view of the tireless efforts of our OFWs who work selflessly abroad and endure long separation and loneliness from their loved ones.”
“For OFWs, the balikbayan box is an enduring testament of their sacrifice and hard work abroad in order to secure a better future for their families back home. It represents the love and care of OFWs for their families, who have to bear months or even years of separation from each other,” the senator said in a statement on Tuesday.
Citing records of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), Pimentel said approximately 1.832 million OFWs were deployed abroad last year whose personal remittances accounted for 8.5 percent of the country’s gross national product (GDP) for the year.
“We cannot thus take for granted the crucial role played by our OFWs in helping sustain the continuous development of our country through the foreign currencies remitted to their families back home,” he said.
Pimentel said the state for its part must make certain that “our prevailing legislation would help augment not only the lives of our OFWs, but also their families who were left behind.”
On the average, some 400,000 balikbayan boxes are shipped monthly back home by OFWs which the BOC had earlier threatened to open at random because of reports that they were being allegedly used to smuggle in highly-dutiable items, including illegal drugs and guns.
The proposal, however, ignited a public indignation that prompted the BOC to backtrack and shelve its plan.
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