THE Bureau of Customs (BOC) is encouraging Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) to use the tax-free “Balikbayan Box” program, saying that no one has availed of it yet as of this month.
“We are encouraging the OFWs to avail of this program. Isa itong pagpaparangal sa ating mga OFWs (This is one way of recognizing our OFWs),” Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon said.
Qualified Filipinos While Abroad (QFWA) can send balikbayan boxes to their families and relatives without having to pay for duties and taxes up to three times and not exceeding P150,000 in a calendar year, under the Republic Act No. 10836 or the Customs Modernization and Tarrif Act (CMTA).
However, Faeldon said that as of July 2017, the program has no takers yet.
“P75 billion annually, this is the amount the government has given to the OFWs (in this project) instead of the government collecting tax from the OFWs,” Faeldon said.
Packages sent under this program is limited to packages sent to the OFWs’ family or relatives up to the fourth civil degree of consanguinity.
The program does not include items in commercial quantity or intended for barter. It should only contain personal and household items, Faeldon said.
How to avail
Qualified Filipinos who can avail of the program are OFWs with valid passports and certified for overseas employment, the Customs chief said.
Qualified applicants for the program also includes: Filipinos under job contract that do not require certification from the Department of Labor and Employment and Philippine Overseas Employment Administration; non-resident Filipinos who are permanently living abroad but retained their Filipino citizenship; and resident Filipino citizens that are holders of student visa, investor’s visa, tourist visa, and similar visas which allow them to establish temporary stay abroad.
The OFWs will have to provide the biographical page of passport, the itemized list of their packages, and receipts of newly-purchased items to the consolidator.
Thereafter, international forwarders will then submit information sheets from the senders through a secured electronic format simultaneously to the BOC and to the deconsolidator.
The Philippine forwarder, on the other hand, will also submit the information sheets and documents in a secured electronic format to the BOC.
Migrant workers group calls it a new ‘money-making’ ploy
Meanwhile a migrant workers’ rights group hits the Bureau of Customs’ new guidelines on balikbayan boxes, calling the memorandum a “money-making” requirement.
Migrante International opposes latest order Customs Memorandum Order 04-2017, specifically on the items that requires the balikbayan boxes to include an “itemized list” of the contents and receipts of the newly-purchased items inside the box. Also, the new directive requires the recipients of the packages to show proof that they are a relative of the sender.
BOC said it issued the directive “to adopt transparent custom rules regulations policies procedures consistent with international standards and best practices and “to prevent revenue loss from possible abuse in the availment of the privilege on the tax and duty-exempt importation of balikbayan boxes.”
“Itong mga taga-Customs, halatang walang malasakit at walang respeto sa mga OFW. Hindi ba nila alam na kasama sa sayang dulot ng balikbayan box ang surpresang dulot nito sa mga pamilya? Pati ba naman ito ay tatanggalin nila? Gusto nilang tanggalin ang saya ng OFW at pamilya sa pagpapadala at pagtanggap ng balikbayan box (The Customs does not care and respect the OFWs. Don’t they know that the idea of surprise brings happiness to the OFWs and their families? And now, the Customs will remove this? They will remove the happiness brought about by sending and receiving balikbayan boxes to the OFW and their families?),” Migrante International spokesperson Arman Hernando said.
Hernando described sending balikbayan boxes as the “most personalized translation of love and affection for its recipients,” a culture practiced by Filipinos and their relatives abroad since then.
“Bakit kami ang pinagdidiskitahan ng gobyerno gayong hindi naman nila masawata ang mga malalaking iligal na smuggler at sindikato? Pawis at dugo ng mga OFW ang puhunan para mapuno ang bawat isang balikbayan box (Why are we the one being blamed by the government now that they cannot suppress the big time illegal smugglers and syndicates? It requires hard work for the OFWs to fill in their balikbayan boxes),” Hernando said.
“The least the government could do is to make sure that this simple vehicle of love is not burdened by unnecessary requirements and money-making schemes at the expense of OFWs and their families,” he added.
Meanwhile, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto on Monday, July 24, shared the sentiments of the migrant workers group, saying the present BOC guidelines and implementation on balikbayan boxes has loopholes that can encourage “pilferage and theft by corrupt customs personnel.”
Recto said that attaching a list of contents was “tantamount to providing a keyhole that might tempt unscrupulous handlers to open it and rid it of its contents.”
“We should review it because of the complicated requirements, balikbayan boxes will be wrapped in red tape,” Recto said in a statement.