‘Balikbayan’ boxes being used to smuggle guns
“BALIKBAYAN” boxes are again being used to smuggle contraband items into the country.
This was disclosed on Thursday by Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon, who said the agency was able to intercept several high-powered firearms stuffed in a balikbayan box at the warehouse of Atlas Shippers International Inc. at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia).
“We were able to seize these high-powered firearms late last month, of course, in coordination with the Philippine National Police,” Faeldon told reporters in an interview.
He said the balikbayan box came from the United States.
The box containing the contraband items were shipped by a certain Maiko Claridad, from Anaheim, California, according to the Bureau of Customs.
The Customs Anti-Illegal Drugs Task Force led the seizure of the smuggled arms which were consigned to a certain Leo Mendieta of Bacolod City.
Authorities monitored the shipping of the balikbayan box from ASSI’s warehouse at the Naia to its Bacolod City warehouse on Aug. 4 and waited for its claimant.
Elements of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) were able to arrest Mendieta (real name Brian C. Ta-Ala) and his aide Wilford Z. Palma on Aug. 6.
The suspects and the confiscated items were placed under the custody of the CIDG. A case of violation of Republic Act No. 10591 (the Comprehensive Firearms and Ammunition Regulation Act) will be filed in court.
Items confiscated include the following: 35 trigger housing assemblies; 60 upper receivers; 15 batter spring locks; 10 barrel assembly M16s; one rail without barrel; one rail with M16 barrel and suppressor; 15 butt assemblies; 15 buffer spring guides; and five quick-detach scope mounts.
Faeldon said the suspect has already been identified and the seized items have already been turned over to the PNP.
“The details of the person is with the police now. We have identified the suspect. The PNP will do the accounting [of the seized firearms],” he said.
Faeldon said the agency may be compelled to implement stricter inspection of balikbayan boxes if smuggling through this channel does not stop.
He warned smugglers that the bureau will get to them, particularly those who use the new tax perks for balikbayan boxes.
“I am warning you, do not do that, because we’re going to get you,” he said.
Faeldon was referring to the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act, which raised the tax exemption of balikbayan boxes being sent to the country by the overseas Filipino workers to P150,000 from P10,000. This was signed into law by former President Benigno Aquino III last May.
Last year, Faeldon’s predecessor, Alberto Lina, got embroiled in a controversy over balikbayan boxes when he announced that these would be randomly opened on suspicion that these were being used to smuggle drugs, arms and highly dutiable goods.
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