The Bureau of Customs (BOC) on Thursday reminded personnel that balikbayan boxes tagged as suspicious can only be examined in the presence of the receiver or an authorized representative.
The reminder was issued by the agency days before Christmas and a week before the New Year, when overseas Filipinos usually send care packages for their relatives at home.
If the persons concerned are unable to attend the inspection, a waiver from the owner should be submitted.
Balikbayan boxes suspected to contain contraband items or possible threats to national security such as weapons or illegal drugs can only be opened upon the written approval of the port’s district collector.
Packages will be tagged suspect if an x-ray scan shows suspicious content, said the BOC’s Public Information and Assistance Division (PIAD).
This latest memorandum, the BOC said in a statement, follows earlier policies implemented by the BOC, particularly regarding the prohibition on random opening of balikbayan boxes. It also aims to curb illegal smuggling via care packages.
In August 2015, the BOC started doing only mandatory x-ray examination of containers of consolidated shipments and balikbayan boxes, in consideration of the value of the care packages for overseas Pinoys and their loved ones.
In October, a BOC order made imported packages sent through the Philippine Postal Corporation and valued under P10,000 tax- and duty-free.
Starting December 25, the BOC will exempt consolidated shipments from those deemed to be "Qualified Filipinos While Abroad" from duties and taxes, up to three times in one year, as long as all three shipments' cumulative value does not exceed P150,000, and contain only personal effects and household goods.
Every month, Philippine ports receive an average of 1,000 containers of balikbayan boxes, said the BOC, which may rise during the holiday rush.