MANILA – A Palace official on Saturday denied that the government was focusing solely on overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in its latest effort to curb smuggling in the country.
The Bureau of Customs recently said that it may impose tougher measures on balikbayan boxes for fear that these tax-free packages are being used by traders to smuggle goods into the country.
In a statement, Customs Commissioner Alberto Lina recounted that some items inside some balikbayan boxes could be considered as smuggled goods due to non-compliance with the Philippine Tariff and Customs Code.
He added that some packages were found to be ''spilling with undervalued items and under-declared contents'' during the bureau's spot checks.
In a radio interview, Deputy Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said, ''Hindi naman po rin sa 'napag-iinitan.' Ang Bureau of Customs ay hinahabol din naman po 'yung mga malalaking smuggler.''
''I think there has been some point of concern when it comes to the BOC doon sa mga balikbayan boxes because they have caught some instances where smugglers are using balikbayan boxes as vehicles. Minsan po 'yung mga parts na nadistrangka inilalagay po sa balikbayan box tapos shini-ship para i-reassemble ho muna ulit dito,'' she explained.
Valte said that the Customs should ensure that the process will not cause any hold up in the release of the balikbayan boxes and that the property inside should be respected.
'''Di ba, hindi pwede 'yung may nawawala, hindi pwede 'yung parang nilamutak. BOC has to be very conscious about that because it's respecting also the property of the owners who sent them legally through the balikbayan boxes,'' she said.
Meanwhile, a group of OFWs and advocates urged the BOC to hold a dialogue with the OFW sector prior to executing any moves in relation to the entry and delivery of balikbayan boxes.
In a statement, Susan Ople of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center said, ''This has become a very emotional issue for our OFWs. We would like to know firsthand from the BoC leadership what brought this controversy on.''
The coalition is taking issue with the ''dictatorial and arbitrary manner by which the BoC has chosen to approach the balikbayan box issue.''
Lito Soriano, a former OFW-turned-businessman, said, ''This is why a balikbayan box is so sacred to OFWs. It is an expression of love, and we always look forward to hearing about how its contents made our family happy.''
Bhing Comiso of the Pinoy Expat/OFW Bloggers Awards (PEBA), a former caregiver in Taiwan added: ''Dugo at pawis ang nilalaan para mapuno ang balikbayan box. Tapos ang OFW pa mismo ang mag-aayos kasi may sense of belongingness sa pag-aayos ng box. Pinapangalanan kung para kanino ang bawat item tapos bubuksan lang nila ng walang pakundgangan. Simpleng bagay sa iba pero para sa amin, meaningful pati ang ayos at bawat nilalaman ng isang balikbayan box.''