Customs sets tighter rules for balikbayan boxes

By Iris C. Gonzales, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jul 29 2011 07:00 AM | Updated as of Jul 29 2011 07:03 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The Bureau of Customs (BOC) will tighten the rules covering the country’s Balikbayan Box Program after discovering that smugglers are now using this route to bring in goods to the Philippines and escape the duties slapped by the BOC.

“We will now subject the balikbayan boxes to X-ray,” Customs Commissioner Angelito Alvarez said yesterday in a press conference at the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Alvarez has filed a case against a gun storeowner who used the balikbayan route to smuggle in firearms and ammunitions and disguised this with diapers and other personal items.

The Customs chief said the scheme was foiled by the agency’s anti-smuggling group with the help of the US Department of Homeland Security.

The respondent, Mark Louie Mendoza of La Loma, Manila is facing various technical smuggling offenses ranging from “misdeclaration and misclassification to unauthorized importation” of weapons of guns and ammunitions.

In a filing at the Justice department, Alvarez charged Mendoza who was identified as the consignee of assorted gun parts and accessories contained in 15 balikbayan boxes.

Customs officials seized the boxes in two successive operations between July 18 and July 25 this year, Alvarez said.

He said the agency would be coordinating with California-based Marilou Mendoza who was identified as the sender of household goods and personnel effects.

Alvarez said that the relation of the two Mendozas is still being verified.

Louie Mendoza is believed to be the owner of Last Resort Armaments, a gun store operating at the Makati Cinema Square along Don Chino Roces Street in Makati City.

Of the 15 boxes, seven boxes arrived on July 16 at the Manila International Container Port.

Upon examination, Customs officials found out that the boxes contained different pieces of long rifle bullets, slugs, cleaning kits and speed lock systems.

Customs officials subjected the boxes to 100% examination based on information provided by the shipment’s consolidator, the Atlas Brokerage and Xpress Padala, Inc. and the US Department of Homeland Security.

Customs Deputy Commissioner and RATS executive director Gregorio Chavez said the seized contraband had a combined value of at least P7.5 million.

If convicted, Chavez said Mendoza could be jailed for life.

Alvarez said there are some 40,000 balikbayan boxes entering the country every year through the Ports of Manila and the Manila International Container Port.