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More than a box: What a ‘balikbayan box’ means for OFWs

MANILA – Overseas Filipino workers (OFW) are called heroes of the new era, “bagong bayani” in Filipino, for a reason.

They go through a very tedious process—submitting requirements, paying placement and other fees, taking various tests—just to be able to work abroad. Apart from the process, there is also the risk of being scammed by illegal recruiters or being abused by the not-so-good employers.

OFWs also spend months or even years away from their loved ones. Some even brave areas known to be “war zones” just to be able to provide for their family, without even being sure of ever coming back in one piece.

And the only way these OFWs and their families can “connect” with one another—because Skype and phone calls are not enough—is through “balikbayan boxes.”

These boxes contain items personally handpicked, bought, carefully arranged and folded, sealed with tape and love, and sent by OFWs to their loved ones.

That is the reason why social media space is full of negative reactions to the Bureau of Customs’ (BOC) policy on opening balikbayan boxes and assessing the value of items that need to be taxed.

Customs Commissioner Alberto “Bert” Lina explained his side in an interview on ANC Headstart Monday morning, insisting that the agency’s move is to counter smuggling in the country.

MORE THAN A BOX

A lot of OFWs took the Customs’ policy on opening balikbayan boxes personally. For them, it is as if someone else opened a gift for a loved one, which they themselves bought and wrapped with much effort.

Marvin de Guzman:

“Balikbayan boxes are like love letters, and letters should not be opened nor read by anybody not even the BOC unless there’s a crime involve. I say it’s the same because filling up a balikbayan box you personally select what gift you want to send… just like in a letter you carefully choose every word you want to say. Why would you tax those gifts things that are products of each OFW’s labor of love?”

Ycel Manalo Salazar

“Kapag balikbayan boxes po nangahuhulugan po yan ng pagpapaliban ng mga OFW na bumili ng sarili nilang gamit kapalit ng mga bagay na bibilhin nila upang ilagay sa BB, ito po ay kabayaran sa mga day off namin, holidays at part time, isang kaligayahan na kapalit ay pagsasakripisyo para mailagay lang sa loob ng BB. Ang pag eempake po nyan ay pinagbubuhusan namin ng napakalaking effort upang maisalansan naming lahat ng mga gamit na pinag ipunan namin.”

Khaye G. Lingat-Yambao:

“The feeling of buying it and personally handpicking it for a loved one is really something for us OFW’s.”

Maricel U. Javier Para:

“Sa pamilya po nmin ung box n ipapa-cargo at masarap sa pakiramdan n cla mismo ang unang magbubukas at magkalkal s loob nito.”

Delia Hufana:

“Lahat ng pagtitipid kasama pagkain namin, pagtitiis sa hirap ng trabaho, ginagawa namin para lng makabili nang paunti-unti para may mailagay sa balikbayan box, halos abutin ng 1 yr. bago mapuno. Sarap ng pakiramdam kung puno at naisip ang kagalakan ng aming mga mahal sa buhay sa Pinas pagka-deliver ng box, at ang excitement nila sa pagbubukas ninto. Konting kasiyahan ng aming pamilya ay mawawala dahil sa bukas na at mababawasan ang laman. Nasaan ang inyong konsensya?”

Raf Echanova:

“Dapat sanang malaman ng taga-BoC na ang bawat balikbayan box ay pawang sagrado sa mga OFW. Ito ay hindi isang ordinaryong commodity kundi may bahid ng dugo at pawis ng mga nagsisipaghanapbuhay sa ibang bansa.”

Rheden Morales

“It’s a personal gift for their loved ones at kahit pa bago items, bigyan po natin ng consideration ang kasipagan ng mga OFW.”

Jan Argy :

“Regalo po yang mga gusto nyong pabuksan at hindi natin kostumbre na magkalkal ng regalo ng iba maliban na lang nung tayo’y nasa panahon ng diktadurya. Hindi ako abogado pero ang pakiramdam ko sa gagawin nyo nilalabag nyo ang karapatan ko sa unreasonable searches at privacy of communications.”

PRIVACY

Some OFWs feel the government is intruding on their privacy by allowing the Customs to open their balikbayan boxes.

Rosebern Angeles:

“Opening our boxes is intruding our privacy… those are for our loved ones. Pinaghirapan nmin un dito sa abroad para mpasaya ang mga pamilya nmin tas bubulatlatin lng nila, worst e bka hindi na kumpleto makarating sa pamilya nmin. Knowing ang mga anomalya nila sa BOC.”

Jhopes Banawa:

“Dugo at pawis namin ang laman ng aming box. Ilang bahay at kasilyas ang aming nililinis para makaipon lang ng panlagay sa box na ‘yan. Ilang buwan bago mapuno. Para mapasaya ang aming pamilya dyan sa Pinas. Tapos bubuksan niyo, mawawala na ang ibang laman at masisira na ang iba. Isipin nyo naman na pinaghirapan namin yan.”

Roderick Ordanza:

“Bakit kelangan pang buksan ang balikbayan boxes where you can use scanners or xrays pra malaman nyo un laman ng boxes? dugo at pawis ang puhunan ng OFWs dyan, maingat na inihanay at masinop na sinalansan ang bawat bagay at pagkain na laman nyan.”

Jonalyn Aguilar:

“Bukod sa malaking abala, mababalasubas pa ang kahon na inayos na maigi sa pagbalot tapos kakalkalin ng walang pakundangan.”

John Jesus Soriano

“It’s an intrusion to human rights and/or rights or privacy siguro or to any of some sort sa pagbubukas ng mga hard earned pasalubong. Please things like these are dapat pinagiisipang maiigi and every decision should go towards common good. #magisip”

Gerard Ruivivar:

Invasion of Privacy. Things inside the BBB are “hard-earned” money. It’s our way of extending our presence to our loved ones despite of our distance. We would be happy our families will be the one to open the BBB “first-hand” Number

王成吉:

“‘Yan box nmin matagal nmin yan inipon 3-6 months yan bago mapuno, Kung lumampas man sa 500 dollar sana balato na lng nyo samin mga OFW, kapalit nyan saya, ngiti ng familya namin. Konti lng nmn yun para d kami pagbigyan..”

Louie Philip Sionosa:

“Respeto naman sa aming mga OFW, right to privacy at saka wala kaming tiwala sa mga taga BOC. Kung may nagustuhan na items, taxable agad yan.”

Magistrate Herrera:

“Ndi po nmin ipapahamak mga pamilya nmin pra mag send ng mga smuggled balikbayan boxes.”

‘UNFAIR’

Other OFW’s cried “unfair treatment” from the government, believing that there are better ways to end smuggling without opening their hard-earned balikbayan boxes.

Ray-an Aldiano:

“Ang daming nakakalusot sa BOC tulad ng basura ng canada, isang halimbawa pa lang yan. Tapos ang pinagtutuunan ng pansin yung mga balikbayan box?”

Mark Vipinosa:

Freedom of information ay hindi maipasa, pero ang property ng OFW pwedeng kalkalin!

Mike V. Jugo:

“What most are mad about is the fact that if the person is an easy target (i.e. an OFW) then the subject is dismissed by saying “the law is the law.” But if the people involved have power, either political, wealth (e.g. Enrile), and/or guns (e.g. rebels/terrorists), then all of a sudden not even the Philippine Constitution is sacred.”

Dodie Sales Pelayo:

“Go after bigtime smugglers at saka mga nagdadala ng basura sa pilipinas. Not the OFW’s.”

Mariah Bella:

“Focus on the real smugglers. Drugs, fake products, garbage importer ‘yon dpat ang pagtuunan niyo ng oras nya. H’wag nyo nman pag initan ung mga box nmin at pagfeistan ung mga laman.”

Olive Ocampo:

“Inspection is fine but not literally opening the boxes. Use X-ray machines like what is used at the airports. Inspection of imported goods is an SOP in other countries as well but not by opening the boxes without the consent of the receiver.”

Dyobhie Cabato Cabradilla:

“Sna naman bago kayo nag isip ng bagong panukala o batas dapat cnabhan nyo muna kung ppyag ang mga taong involved dto mga ofw at freight companies nang mapagusapan at magkaroon ng win win outcome hindi yung ganyang si BOC Comm nlng nasusunod.”

Olive Ocampo:

“Whether the gift is ” branded” or of “higher value than USD500 must not be taxable for it is still considered as for “Personal Use” or “gift” to their loved ones. For example, one laptop that is requested by a child from her OFW parent as Christmas gift because the child needs it for schoolwork and is sent through Balikbayan box, how much tax will then be imposed on the box containing it considering that one laptop computer already costs USD500?”

Ovejas Ricky:

“H’wag din po sanag limitahan lang sa 500$ ang laman ng isang box.dahil napakaliit pong halaga nun,kung bibili po ang isang OFW ng 2 pares ng sapatos para sa anak nya,PSP4,at kung ano2 pa..”

Genevieve Holgado- Chua:

“Imbes na magdagdag ng manpower, chances of temptation at cause of delay sa bukas-sara/ mano2x na proseso ng mga balikbayan boxes inspection, manong mag-invest sa xray machines na gagawa nito? Nasaan po napupunta ang pinapasahod natin sa mga kinauukulan para mag-isip ng mga makabagong solusyon sa mga simpleng problemang ganito?”

TRUST ISSUES

Meanwhile, other OFW’s said there’s an obvious trust issue between the public and the Bureau of Customs, an agency once tagged as one of the “most corrupt government agencies” in a survey.

[[LINK: MOST CORRUPT GOVERNMENT AGENCIES – http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/video/nation/02/19/10/bir-customs-dpwh-most-corrupt-agencies-survey]]

Patrick Vency Arago:

“The point is people have little trust as to the credibility of Customs agency. So OFWs are afraid something might go wrong with their boxes if opened. Now, how can the government assure nothing wing will happen to the contents of their boxes if opened? Will the government shoulder any loss or damage just in case it happens?”

Jordan De Leon Ma’am:

“The main thing is how can the BOC assure OFWs that they will perform their duties honestly? Can Lina guarantee 100% that the custom officials will NOT steal the goods that they’ve inspected? Mr. Lina needs to remember that the public perception towards the BOC is negative (Number 1 most corrupt agency) as there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of horror cases where boxes did not reach the intended recipient at all.”

Richmond Salas:

“The idea of this regulation is very sincere, but those folks from BOC who are implementing this are not..”

Rey Asuncion:

“The moment you open those boxes, hindi nyo na po makokontrol ang mahiwagang mga kamay. Even security guards ay nagbabantay din abang abang lang. Not to mention na pag binulatlat mo ang mga laman ng box hindi nyo na po maibabalik ng maayos ang mga yun dahil sasabog na po ang box.”

Jules Alvin Camcam:

“Can BOC re-packed all the boxes they open in a more presentable form with complete checklist? Show us a demo how are you going to do it. Are you prepare to do it? Then show it with a complete process flow.”

Albert Paul Navarro

“I understand that BOC is losing around 600 million yearly because of undeclared or undervalued items but that is nothing compared to the money being lost due to corruption. I would think that most Filipinos would prefer the latter to be fixed first.”

Sweetcute Bernal:

“Hindi ako natakot o kinabahan ng dahil sa pagbubukas nila ng box ay baka may mawala, ang ikinakatakot ko, baka lagyan nila ng kung ano like drugs or pinagbabawal na bagay.”

Lee Zah:

“You want to increase the tax to keep the boxes sealed…do so. But the moment they are opened, it’s an invitation to steal. This is proven!”

 

Source: Abs-Cbn News, PH

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